Expanded natural gas pipeline provides more Mainers options

Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

January 3rd, 2010


The Brewer natural gas compressor station. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Last fall, Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, which ships natural gas through Maine to Massachusetts, tripled its capacity under its Phase IV project with a new 146-mile pipeline. The natural gas is compressed in Brewer. This $300 million Phase IV expansion project went on line in January, 2009, and has made it possible to deliver natural gas daily to markets in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Atlantic Canada.

“The cost of energy and transportation puts Maine at a disadvantage. This gives Maine companies and citizens more affordable energy choices. The more we use less foreign oil the more we strengthen our economy. This will help bring more businesses to Maine,” said Governor John Baldacci at the opening celebrations for the Brewer compressor station. “We’ve been too dependent on oil. We need a diversified energy portfolio, with wind, tidal, solar, wood, and natural gas. They all need to be in play. We’ve been over a barrel too long. Today marks a great stepping stone towards energy independence for Maine.”

The project puts Maine in a unique position, at the beginning of the United State’s interstate natural gas pipeline network.

The Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline president Tina Faraca said, “The expanded Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline has created a real opportunity for more Mainers to have access to natural gas. It’s the cleanest-burning conventional fuel. As we bring more supplies to the state, it will bring more opportunities for use. This project also enables the state of Maine to gain access to new suppliers and ensures reliability of our supply.”

“What they celebrated today doubled the workforce on the pipeline,” said Ken Sokoloski, area supervisor. “Everyone was hired in Maine.”

The Brewer natural gas compressor station is deliberately located off the beaten track, so residents or wildlife aren’t disturbed by its operations. “We conducted extensive studies to determine the right location for the compressor station, always working with the community,” said Faraca.

The buildings from the outside look smaller than many town sheds. The dust-free compressor room looked like the inside of a NASA test building. The compressor itself resembled parts of a lunar module. It is in fact an impressive 18,000 rpm turbine jet engine. What is more astonishing is what is not visible on a tour, and that is what lies underground.

Under the feet of participants at the ribbon cutting were massive pipelines filled with gas being pumped into the station to be compressed before traveling out along other pipelines to destinations south. Hence there were no heaters in the celebration tent.

“There probably wouldn’t have been a problem, but safety is always first here. It’s hard to imagine what we do at this site, but if you took a huge balloon in the air, and pulled it all together compressing it into the size of a baseball, that process is similar to how we compress natural gas at this facility,” said Sokoloski. “A billion cubic feet of gas goes down our line a day. Without compressing it, we would only be able to transmit 200,000 million cubic feet of gas a day.”

That’s a substantial amount of natural gas being compressed.

The company began shipping natural gas between Nova Scotia and Massachusetts in 1999.
When Governor Baldacci was still a Congressman, the plan to build this natural gas pipeline infrastructure through Maine to reach the bigger markets in Massachusetts was proposed. The then congressman backed the plan, understanding that businesses would locate in proximity to the gas lines, for reasonable energy costs.

“Since then there are five to six power plants in Maine that run on natural gas — that wouldn’t be here if our pipelines weren’t here,” said Sokoloski.

In November, Old Town Canoe expanded and switched from oil to natural gas, and they have cut energy costs by half. All along the pipelines, other businesses have set up over the years.

(The Brewer natural gas compressor station. Photo above by Ramona du Houx)

The pipeline system goes through numerous communities across the state, which had to be satisfied that the project was right for them. To handle the increased capacity, five new compressor stations were needed in Eliot, Westbrook, Searsport, Wood Chopping Ridge, and Brewer. Upgrades were made to two existing stations in Baileyville and Richmond. An additional 1.7 miles of transmission line was also added for the Baileyville line.

“There was a lot of forward thinking involved with this project. Maritimes & Northeast held community information sessions and worked with environmental agencies long before they began construction. They listened to the concerns in our communities, and the project was on budget and on time. In Maine, that’s how you do things,” said Baldacci.

Faraca said the project would not have been possible without the support of the governor, Brewer, state legislators, regulatory agencies, and the other communities in Maine where the pipeline is located.

“You helped us all build a better pipeline. We’re proud to be an important part of the communities where we operate. In many towns, we’re the largest taxpayer. Being part of this community is very, very important to us,” she said.

With the construction of the compressor station, valued at just over $50 million, the company pays more than $900,000 in taxes to Brewer.

The expansion also has provided access to liquefied natural gas, imported into Canada through the Canaport LNG terminal in Saint John, New Brunswick, a project that was built in a partnership between Repsol Energy North America and Irving Oil.

Maritimes & Northeast is owned by U.S.-based companies Spectra Energy, formerly known as Duke Energy Corp., and Exxon Mobil Corp., and Canadian-based energy company Emera, Inc.