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Virtual pipeline causes stir in Port Dickinson


A Vermont transportation company wants to tap the 220-mile Millennium Pipeline in Port Dickinson to deliver the natural gas to customers who don't have access to the nation's pipeline system.

But the proposal is running into serious opposition from the Broome County Planning Department, the Village of Port Dickinson, the Chenango Valley Central School District, among others, who contend the site, on the eastern bank of the Chenango River, could pose serious hazards.

Seven-term Village of Port Dickinson Mayor Kevin Burke expressed concern about the the compressor station's proximity to the river, while others question the impact of truck traffic, which could number 100 trips daily during the busy winter season, on the western service road of the Interstate 88 arterial.

The Town of Fenton Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall (44 Park St., Port Crane) to rule on a variance requested by project sponsors. If approved, the plan would go to a 7 p.m. meeting of the town's planning board, which has final authority.

Burke expects the Tuesday meeting to be packed with plan opponents. Nearby residents pledged to attend the sessions to voice their disapproval.

Growing demand for cheap natural gas has prompted NG Advantage of Colchester, Vermont, a natural gas transportation company, to propose a compressor station. Their plan comes as industrial and commercial customer demand grows for the fuel, which sells for a fraction of the price of oil and propane. It also produces less pollutants than coal.

The trucking operations, also referred to as virtual pipelines, load highly compressed natural gas in specially equipped trailers for customers who want the fuel but don't have access to an existing pipeline.

Last year, New York rejected the Constitution Pipeline, which would have shipped Marcellus Shale gas from Pennsylvania's rich Marcellus Shale gas fields to Massachusetts. The state expressed environmental concerns over the project's river crossings.

The Port Dickinson project would be the second virtual pipeline operation to be built in the region since the rejection of the Constitution project. Last year, a similar operation opened in Pennsylvania's Forest Lake Township, about 25 miles southwest of Binghamton. Trucks loaded with compressed natural gas now regularly travel Broome County roads as trailers with XNG logo deliver the commodity to customers within a day's drive.

The XNG project in Forest City Township delivers natural gas to customers in New York and New England without access to pipeline delivery.

Trailers full of natural gas are dropped at the customer while empties are hauled back to the compressor station be refilled.

"If you can't transport it one way, you're going to find another way to transport it," said Walter Hang of Toxic Targeting, an Ithaca-based environmental firm.

In the Midwest, rail tankers and tanker trucks are used to transport shale gas from the rural areas where it is drilled to market.

"We have a general awareness of it," Broome County Emergency Management Services Director Michael A. Ponticiello said of the hazards of transporting compressed natural gas in trailers. "It happens all the time. We don't have any specific concerns as long as codes are followed."

Based on plans submitted by NG Advantage, the compressor and loading station in Port Dickinson will operate 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year filling anywhere from 50 to 100 trailers daily. One of NG's larger customers is the International Paper plant in Ticonderoga, New York.

Virtual pipelines make gas "so mobile, so accessible," said Brad Gill of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York. "They fill a niche event the pipelines couldn't fill."

Chenango Valley School District administrators expressed concern about the project's proximity to a nearby elementary school, while Burke wonders whether the ambient noise from the compressors will disturb the peace of an adjacent Port Dickinson park.

Burke notes the same property was under 10 to 12 feet of water in the wake of the 2011 flood, and wonders if building a potentially hazardous natural gas loading station with the flood plain is a wide choice. There are other tap points for the 36-inch Millennium Pipeline, he said.