The $1.2 billion project will bring natural
gas from Sable Island, Nova Scotia, to industrial and residential consumers in New
England. The entire line of 24-inch-diameter steel pipe will be buried at least 3 feet
underground, according to Pam Cahill, a community relations representative for Maritimes
Last week, Michels Pipeline Construction of Brownsville, Wis., started drilling a
3,000-foot horizontal shaft under the Penobscot.
The drill head of three interlocking steel cones with teeth carries the bedrock back
through the drill shaft to the surface.
A large tent beside Route 15 has been erected over the dig to shelter drilling
equipment and muffle the noise.
In the tent, within a trailer full of portable computers, charts and a joystick
console, engineers guide the drill in a long arch 100 feet below the river bed. After
passing through the shaft with a succession of increasingly large drill bits, a steel pipe
will be pulled through it, according to Paul Krings, a directional drilling specialist
with Michels Pipeline Construction. At several stages in the project, the pipe is
pressure-tested to ensure there are no leaks.
Ironically, the horizontal shaft-digging technology being used was developed by the oil
industryperhaps the fiercest of the natural gas industrys competitors.
The Penobscot River project will take two to three months, according to Stone Broadway,
a chief inspector at Maritimes & Northeast.
When the Penobscot dig is completed, the pipeline will then continue underground,
generally following existing power line corridors east toward Baileyville in Washington
County, according to Brian Prenda, spokesman for Maritimes & Northeast.
Prenda said his company has reached agreements with landowners on more than 93 percent
of the land involved in the pipeline.
However, with its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission project approval, Maritimes and
Northeast is exempt from municipal planning board review and has the power of eminent
domain to secure easements on all the land necessary to complete the project.
"We have tried to minimize our use of eminent domain, because we have good faith
in the landowners...and when its completed, the pipeline will be a catalyst for
economic development in the region," Prenda said.
Bucksport Town Manager Roger Raymond concurred that any local control was a moot point.
"There is not much we can do, its not in our jurisdiction," he said.
But the company did have to pay Bucksport $10 for a temporary structure permit for its
But state Representative Edward Povich, D-Ellsworth, while attending an Ellsworth
Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday, said there has been tension between some residents
and the federally sanctioned pipeline company.
"I know landowners have quarreled with the tactics of Maritimes and Northeast as
they continue the pipeline," he said.
Planning on the lines inevitable completion, the Bangor Gas Co. could provide
natural gas to the greater Bangor area as early as this November, according to Jonathan
Kunz, manager of marketing and sales for Bangor Gas.
The Maine Public Utilities Commission has approved the Bangor Gas plan, which would
supply natural gas to residential and commercial users in Bangor, Brewer, Orono, Old Town
and Veazie, Kunz said.
Work crews will begin burying gas lines on June 1, he said.
The second phase of the Bangor Gas project could bring service to Milford, Bradley,
Eddington, Orrington, Hampden, Hermon and Bucksport by November 2000.
He said the company is still negotiating to build a lateral connection to Champion
Internationals proposed natural gas turbine.
With the potential for natural gas service on the horizon, some critics and competitors
are questioning the merits of the venture.
At Tuesdays chamber breakfast, Gene Guilford, president of the Maine Oil Dealers
Association, gave a talk contending that the promised benefits of the pipeline to Maine
consumers may never materialize.
According to Guilford, Bangor Gas filed a 10-year rate plan with the Maine PUC that
indicates natural gas rates will increase.
"Youll be paying fire sale prices in the beginning, but you could be paying
higher costs five years into the future," he said.
Guilford said that better information was needed so that consumers can decide which
energy source is the cheapest and cleanest. He challenged common assumptions that natural
gas burns cleaner and more efficiently than oil.
At present, Maine has the fourth-highest cost for natural gas in the U.S., he said, but
is 45th in the nation for oil costs.
However, Kunz, who prior to working for Bangor Gas spent 15 years in the heating oil
business, rebutted many of the claims put forth by the Maine Oil Dealers
He said Bangor Gas has only a five-year price plan approved by the PUC and that the
pricing is conservative because of the difficulty in estimating market share.
"If an oilman had an 80,000-gallon truck and only one customer, he couldnt
sell it for 80 cents a gallon," he said.
As the market opens up, prices will be increasingly competitive, he said. Once the
pipeline is in place, any company can sell gas through it by paying a tariff.
"Other companies want us to get the customers and then theyll come in and
offer lower prices," he said.
In 10 years, Kunz said he expects natural gas will have between 30 and 40 percent of
the residential energy market.
As to the contention that oil is on par with natural gas, he said, "its
total malarkey. Theres no way that heating oil burns cleaner than natural gas,"
Kunz said 69 percent of new homes in the U.S. use natural gas and that it burns
efficiently and produces less carbon-based greenhouse gas emissions than oil.