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Partners to stretch $150 million gas line across the region

| Friday, April 6, 2012

NiSource Gas Transmission and Storage on Thursday announced a partnership with Texas-based XTO Energy to build a 70-mile natural gas pipeline across Southwestern Pennsylvania.

The line will serve as a gathering system for Marcellus shale wells in Butler, Armstrong, Allegheny, Indiana and Westmoreland counties.

Construction of the pipeline has started in the Alle-Kiski Valley. As just one example, trees were recently cleared in Buffalo Township to make way for the line.

The $150 million pipeline project, formerly known as the Lancer Line, has beenn dubbed the Big Pine Gathering System.

NiSource plans to replace the dormant 55-mile, 10-inch Buckeye pipeline with a combination 20- or 24-inch high pressure line. The company will lay new pipe to extend the line on both ends of the former Buckeye line.

"(XTO), along with other producers in the area, will now have the capacity and access to markets needed in this burgeoning shale gas development play in Western Pennsylvania by the end of the year," Jimmy Staton, NiSource executive vice president, said in a written statement.

Since 2008, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued to XTO Energy about 360 well permits in the five counties where the pipeline will be located. An XTO spokesman wouldn't say how many wells will feed into the gathering line. The company is a subsidiary of ExxonMobil .

The system is expected to provide an initial capacity of about 425 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.

NiSource, which owns Columbia Gas Transmission, parent company of Columbia Gas of Pa., plans to connect the pipeline with its own transmission line as well as Texas Eastern Transmission and Dominion Transmission lines.

Construction likely will begin in mid-summer and the line is expected to be in service by December, said Ellen Partridge, NiSource community outreach coordinator.

"By NiSource creating this infrastructure, XTO Energy has another efficient, flexible and reliable route to transport gas in Western Pennsylvania," XTO spokesman Jeff Neu said via e-mail.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates natural gas transmission lines, will conduct safety inspections and oversee the project.

Increased shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania could require up to 25,000 miles of new pipe, according to a 2011 report from the Nature Conservancy, a national organization. The study focused on pipe laying in Bradford County, which has the state's most Marcellus shale wells.

Pipelines require forest clearing and could introduce invasive species and threaten wildlife habitats as well as deposit sediment into streams and creeks, said Bill Kunze, the executive director of the conservancy's Pennsylvania Chapter.

"We think the impact on the landscape from pipeline development is going to be bigger than the well pads, themselves, for the Marcellus shale," he said. "We're trying to provide information to the industry and regulatory agencies and work with them to reduce the impact of development. That only works if they are looking at the cumulative effect of this, instead of individual pipelines."

NiSource has been coordinating informational meetings in communities through which the pipeline will run.

"I don't have a problem with it as long as they do it the way we want them to do it," said South Buffalo Township Supervisor Terry Van Dyke.

He wants NiSource to agree to repair damage and make sure homeowners are properly notified about any work that will be done on their property.

Van Dyke said the pipeline comes into South Buffalo from Buffalo Township near Ralston Road, continues under Buffalo Creek, across the Phoenix at Buffalo Valley Golf Course, then toward Murphys Bottom Road. From there, it goes under the Allegheny River toward Gilpin.

"Most of it is wooded land," said Van Dyke.

NiSource officials said they'll likely meet with Gilpin and Parks townships officials this month.

The pipeline project created controversy among residents of the Buffalo Trails housing plan in Buffalo Township when some discovered the old line ran as close as 10 feet from their front doors.

NiSource has since reached an agreement with the White Star Fraternal Society, which owns adjacent land, to run the pipeline under a wooded area that separates the two properties.

"I think it's a good outcome, and I believe the alternate route is the best balance in terms of minimizing the impact and supporting the industry and economic benefits," said Mike Wolff, president of the Buffalo Trails Homeowners Association.

Tree cutting along the pipeline path had to be completed by April 1 in accordance with environmental regulations that protect the Indiana bat, which begin to roost in the spring.

The affected land will be reseeded and trees and shrubs replaced.

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