One of the major sources of energy in New Hampshire is natural gas. Natural gas has also been a major disruptive force in the energy markets throughout the US. Just five years ago, we were importing significant quantities of natural gas into the US and foreign deliveries of liquefied natural gas, such as that shown below, to storage depots located in Boston harbor were the order of the day.
In 2008 fracking technology kicked into high gear and we were able to release the vast resources of previously inaccessible natural gas and oil located in shale deposits in Texas, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and other places.
Natural gas is typically transported by major interstate pipelines that run across the US. As I noted in my previous post, these steel gas pipelines are 20 to 42 inches in diameter and are buried underground along 100 ft rights of way. Compressor stations along the pipelines maintain the gas pressures, which can range from 200 to 1500 pounds per square inch. The natural gas is then directed to distribution points where it passes through a gate station. Here it becomes the responsibility of the local distribution company which then drops the pressure, adds the odorant that gives natural gas its distinct smell, and directs the gas through lower pressure and smaller 2 to 8 inch mainlines to homes and business. Service lines branching off the distribution mainline bring the gas directly into homes or businesses.
Natural gas can also be compressed and transported as compressed natural gas, CNG, or even liquefied at very high pressures to form liquefied natural gas, LNG, which can be transported by rail, truck, or ship (as shown in the picture above). In fact, CNG and LNG are interesting and growing options to get natural gas to areas where there are no natural gas pipelines (but that will be a topic for a future blog). In this post, we focus on natural gas transported in pipelines.
As shown in the figure below, the US has an impressive network of natural gas pipelines snaking their way across the country, especially across the central corridor from the Great Lakes down through Texas and the Gulf Coast region. The gas pipeline network is particularly dense in the areas where the natural gas is found, such as Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania.
The figure above and the accompanying figure below, which shows more detail for New England, indicate that the natural gas network is rather more spread out in the Northeast. Massachusetts and Connecticut are reasonably well serviced but this pipeline network somewhat peters out for the northern New England states. When it comes to natural gas pipelines, New Hampshire and Vermont are literally at “the end of the line”.*
Source: ICF/ISO NE
In NH there are only four natural gas pipelines. The most important for NH residents is the Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) which is owned by Kinder Morgan and which brings gas from Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf of Mexico into New England. This pipeline crosses New York state and the length of Massachusetts and distributes gas across a large part of MA. This pipeline has several tributaries, one of which branches off near Lowell in Massachusetts and heads north into NH along the communities near the Merrimack River and reaching as far as the Lakes region.
In the northern part of the state, the Portland Natural Gas Transmission System (PNGTS) pipeline (shown in light blue in the map above) brings in gas from Canada from the Trans-Quebec and Maritimes pipeline systems. This pipeline drops down from Canada along the VT/NH border and then crosses the northern part of the state into Maine where it heads for the seacoast to join up with the Maritimes and Northeast (M&N) pipeline. The PNGTS pipeline, owned by two Canadian gas companies, TransCanada and Gaz Metro, is not a distribution pipeline to deliver gas to NH. Instead it is a transmission pipeline focused on bringing Canadian natural gas to some major paper mill operations in Maine and natural gas-fired generation operations in New England. After this connects with the M&N pipeline in Westbrook, ME, it drops down through the Maine and NH seacoast area, dropping off natural gas in the Portsmouth area on its way to Dracut and Haverhill, MA, to bring Canadian natural gas to the area north of Boston. The section of the pipeline from Westbrook, ME, to Dracut, MA, is a joint venture between PNGTS and M&N.
In NH, the PNGTS pipeline has three metering stations, one in Pittsburg, another in Groveton (the now defunct site of the Groveton and Washau Paper Mills), and an important one in Berlin. At this station, natural gas is tapped off the PNHTS pipeline and distributed in the local Berlin area by Liberty Utilities, which accounts for a lone island of natural gas supply in the northern part of the state. The Gorham paper mill also accesses natural gas from this pipeline and it is the cheap fuel from this pipeline that is large part of why this paper mill is still a viable operation. However, increases in natural gas prices this past winter caused the paper mill to curtail operations and lay off workers. The metering stations represent potential distribution points for natural gas and plans are afoot to use the Groveton and Gorham sites as a distribution point for LNG.
The third pipeline that impacts New Hampshire is the 730-mile long M&N pipeline that brings in natural gas from New Brunswick, the Sable, and Deep Panuke natural gas deposits offshore of Nova Scotia as well as from the LNG storage and re-gasification facility in St. John, New Brunswick. This pipeline is jointly owned by Spectra Energy, Emera, and Exxon Mobil. It connects with the PNGTS in Westford, Maine and, as mentioned above, it then shares the pipeline with PNGTS to head south along the Maine and New Hampshire seacoast on its journey to Dracut. It also branches off and delivers gas to Methuen and Beverley, MA. Its original function was to bring Canadian natural gas from the Maritimes to Atlantic Canada and New England, however, with gas production from Maritimes offshore deposits declining and increased natural gas consumption in the Maritimes states, there could in the future be a shortage of natural gas in the Canadian Atlantic states. In a remarkable reversal, consideration is now been given to reversing the flow of natural gas along parts of this pipeline to bring gas from the Pennsylvanian natural gas deposits up through New England and then sending it north to Maine and perhaps even into Atlantic Canada.
The fourth pipeline is the Granite State Gas Transmission (GSGT) pipeline that runs from Haverhill, MA, up to Portland, ME. This pipeline is owned by Unitil and, for most of its journey, runs in parallel with the PNGTS and M&N shared pipeline, as can be seen from the map below. This pipeline picks up gas from the hubs in the Haverhill area (from either the PNGTS, M&N, or the TGP pipelines) and then sends it north up the seacoast to Portland, Maine, where it supplies the Unitil distribution network along this area.
With knowledge of these four pipelines, it is now straightforward to understand which communities in NH have natural gas, as shown on the map below. As noted, we have the lone northern island of natural gas supply in Berlin where the gas is delivered by PNGTS pipeline. We also have the seacoast communities in dark blue, where the gas is supplied by the GSGT pipeline, and then we have the communities along the Merrimack corridor that tap into the tributary of the TGP pipeline. [There is a single small propane distribution network in Keene which is shown in grey.]
The seacoast area is the service area of Unitil and the Merrimack corridor, and the lone dropoff point in Berlin is serviced by Liberty Utilities. These are the only two local distribution companies in New Hampshire that deliver natural gas to residential, commercial, and industrial customers through their distribution network.
My next post will take a closer look at these local natural gas distribution companies, but, in the meantime, it is important to be aware that, even though I am looking at natural gas from a NH perspective, we need to appreciate that natural gas consumption and supply is very much a regional matter. All natural gas is imported into New England. It comes in from Texas, Pennsylvania, Canada, and the Maritimes and its supply is very limited by the size and number of pipelines. Natural gas is very much like electricity—difficult to store and much of its use is on demand. When there is insufficient natural gas, electricity production is compromised and the lights could go out.
So until my next post, do your part to keep the lights on by remembering to turn off the lights when you leave the room.
Franklin Pierce University
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(End of the Line* - A great tune from the band The Travelling Wilburys that really lived up to its “supergroup” labeling. Featuring George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Bob Dylan, the group’s two albums remind us of what happens when a lot of musical talent and a great deal of superb songwriting come together.)