By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star
---- — COOPERSTOWN — While the deadline for sending federal regulators comments on the possible impacts of the proposed Constitution Pipeline is today, people on both sides of the issue say the debate over the project is likely to rage for months ahead.
Two companies, Williams Partners and Cabot Oil and Gas, have signaled they are willing to pour $750 million into constructing a 121-mile pipeline that would initially move enough natural gas from Pennsylvania to Schoharie County to power three million homes a day in the northeastern U.S.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has asked for comments not only on the project planners’ preferred route for transmitting gas to existing pipeline connections in the the town of Wright, but also for several alternative routes, including one dubbed Route M that hugs Interstate 88.
The debate over the project has pitted pro-growth advocates against environmental activists who say the pipeline would be a catalyst for horizontal shale gas drilling to begin in a region where energy companies already have hundreds of leases with landowners willing to allow their acreage to be tapped for gas.
Over the Columbus Day weekend, FERC received at least three dozen new comments on the project, including many from people who argue it would be environmentally destructive or is unnecessary because of the current supplies of natural gas.
Meredith Town Supervisor Keitha Capouya said she has already sent the FERC one letter stating her opposition to the project, and was sending a second one Monday night even though she wondered how much weight it would be given by the government regulators whose power trumps local zoning laws.
“They’ve ignored things before,” Capouya said. “I imagine they can ignore these, too.”
She said she questions why the federal government is not doing more to encourage small towns to set up their own energy generating stations using alternative forms of power, with networks of smaller scales wind turbines, hydropower stations, solar panels and geothermal energy.
“There are towns that could produce all their own energy needs almost entirely by themselves, and that would take all the pressure off the grid,” she said. “But the money would not be going into the same pockets, so that is why it is so hard to make that happen.”
Worcester town board member Dave Parker, involved in a landowners’ coalition that favors gas production, said he is optimistic that the FERC will eventually approve the Constitution Pipeline.
“Every other pipeline is either at or close to capacity,” said Parker. He said to use existing pipelines to get the gas to where the companies want to send it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars more to transmit the product. “I believe that FERC is going to see that there is no better way to do it,” Parker added.
Parker believes that gas extraction in Pennsylvania and eventually in New York will expand to the point that a second pipeline will eventually be needed. As a result, he said it would make more sense for FERC to permit two parallel pipelines to run together in the same right way. “We should be planning further ahead and putting in a second pipeline in the same trench right next to it,” he said.
The pipeline planners have said they expect to file their application for federal certification in early 2013.
FERC has asked those wishing to submit comments on the Constitution Pipeline to reference the project’s docket number — PF12-9-000 — in their correspondence.
Comments can be filed over the internet in two ways: one is by using the agency’s “quick comment” feature, located at www.ferc.gov under the link “Documents and Filings;” and the other is by using the “eFiling” feature, also located at the “Documents and Filings” link. Those choosing the latter feature are first asked to open a FERC account by clicking on the link “eRegister” from the agency’s site.
Those wishing to mail the agency a paper copy of their comments may do so by directing the correspondence to: Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street, NE, Room 1A, Washington, DC 20426.