Aug. 07–A state regulatory body has scheduled preliminary proceedings about a proposed gas line under the Ashuelot River in Keene, after a city councilor and a local river advisory group raised concerns. The proceedings are slated for Sept. 5.
In May, Liberty Utilities asked the N.H. Public Utilities Commission for permission to run the pipeline under the Ashuelot near the Winchester Street bridge.
Liberty’s gas system already crosses the river via a pipeline attached to the underside of the West Street bridge. The company said in its petition to the commission it needs an additional river crossing for “improved reliability.” “By adding a second crossing … we’re enhancing safety and reliability,” John Shore, a Liberty spokesman, told The Sentinel last month. “It basically creates a loop so that we can feed the area from two sides.” That way, an interruption at one of the pipes — for maintenance or another reason — would not cut off service to the city’s entire west side, Shore said.
A second river crossing would also allow the company to temporarily shut down the older pipeline, should the city need to repair the West Street bridge, Liberty said in its petition.
But some area residents, including Keene City Councilor Terry M. Clark, have concerns about drilling under the river. In June, Clark asked to intervene in the proceedings, arguing the commission should grant “a fair opportunity for public input and intervention.”
And in a comment submitted July 30, the Ashuelot River Local Advisory Committee said it’s worried fluids could leak during the drilling process. “We have concerns regarding the possible contamination to the river (and/or) groundwater due to inadvertent release of fluids during the drilling process,” Barbara Skuly of Swanzey, the committee’s chairwoman, wrote. The committee, appointed by the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, is tasked with advising the department on the river’s management, commenting on governmental decisions that could affect the river and other duties.
Shore called the project “relatively minor and routine” and said the Department of Environmental Services has signed off on Liberty’s construction plans.
“No heavy construction equipment will be within 100′ of the river,” he said in an email today. “It would be more likely that vehicle traffic traveling over the bridge would accidentally contaminate the river than any work Liberty Utilities will be doing.”
Clark said Monday he is glad the proposed gas line will be discussed in a public forum. “We’re supposed to be informed of the things that large companies and our government (are) doing that affect us all,” said Clark, who represents Keene’sWard 3. “You can’t just have this stuff going under the radar.”
A back-to-back prehearing conference and technical session before the commission are set for Sept. 5. The purpose of those sessions is to hear preliminary statements from Liberty and other interested parties and agree on a schedule for further proceedings, according to Amanda O. Noonan, a spokeswoman for the commission.
During prehearing conferences, the commission also reviews and often rules on intervention requests like Clark’s, Noonan said.
Intervening gives someone certain rights in a proceeding, such as conducting discovery and presenting evidence.
Liberty Utilities serves about 1,200 customers in Keene through its propane/air system, according to its website. The company hopes to convert the system to natural gas, which it says is safer and more reliable than propane/air. Those plans are before the Public Utilities Commission in a separate case, in which Clark has also intervened.
Clark has opposed Liberty’s natural-gas plans on health and environmental grounds. In previous filings with the commission, he has argued that using natural gas exacerbates climate change and claimed gas extracted through hydraulic fracturing — also known as “fracking” — contains chemicals that could be detrimental to human health.
Shore has said the company’s gas would come from different sources and be produced using a variety of methods.
Like the Ashuelot River committee, Clark said he’s concerned that fluids could leak into the water during the drilling process.
Skuly, of the river committee, asked Liberty to provide a detailed, up-to-date study of the geology and hydrology of the proposed drill site; a plan laying out what conditions would force a halt to drilling; and provisions for an environmental monitor who would watch for problems during construction.
Other than the committee, four Monadnock Region residents — from Rindge, Spofford, Harrisville and Walpole — submitted comments to the Public Utilities Commission. They expressed worry about gas leaks, global warming or both.
Utility crossings of public waters — from electrical wires over rivers to pipelines under them — require commission approval. Many of those requests are fairly routine and move forward without a public hearing, but the commission sometimes holds hearings on requests that generate more public interest, according to Noonan.
The Ashuelot pipeline proposal seems to have generated public interest, though it is too early to say for sure whether it’s headed for a public hearing, she said.
Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PCunoBoothKS.
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