Shale Wealth Not a Pipe Dream for Columbia

MOUNDSVILLE – So plentiful and profitable is Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas that the sister company of Columbia Gas of Ohio plans to build a $1.75 billion pipeline system that will ship up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of fuel per day for use in markets across the U.S.

Columbia Pipeline Group, which announced its transportation project Tuesday, and Columbia Gas are both subsidiaries of Merrillville, Ind.-based NiSource Inc. The parent firm claims 3.8 million natural gas customers from the Gulf Coast through the Midwest to New England.

“We have been a part of Ohio and West Virginia for more than 100 years and have an unparalleled footprint in the Marcellus and Utica production areas,” said Columbia Pipeline Group CEO Glen Kettering. “In addition, this investment will further support our commitment to economic growth and development by creating new project-related jobs and generating ongoing tax revenue for local communities.”

Though the specific route is not yet determined, the proposed Ohio and West Virginia pipeline would be known as Columbia Transmission’s Leach XPress project. Producers such as American Energy Partners, a firm organized by former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon, Noble Energy and Range Resources would ship their gas to market via this pipeline, Columbia officials said. Most of American Energy’s acreage is in eastern Ohio, while Noble has a large lot in Marshall County. Almost all Range Marcellus wells are in Pennsylvania.

Officials said the pipeline would stretch for 160 miles across Ohio and West Virginia, allowing it access to multiple gathering points at which production companies could insert their gas. Officials hope to begin construction in 2016 and have the pipeline operational the following year.

The Leach XPress project would permit Columbia to send gas to multiple markets, including an interconnection in Kentucky. Officials believe connecting production areas to Columbia’s mainline system will give producers access to high-demand energy markets.

The NiSource subsidiary looks to proceed with this pipeline at the same time Dominion Resources wants to send Marcellus and Utica natural gas to North Carolina via its Southeast Reliability Project. Some residents in Pocahontas and Randolph counties in southeastern West Virginia fear the proposed 42-inch diameter pipelines Dominion plans will disturb their way of life because of earthmoving and the presence of compressor stations.

In numerous legal advertisements over the past few years, natural gas drillers and processors state that compressor stations have the potential to discharge various amounts of pollutants such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, methane and formaldehyde.

However, Columbia officials said they will perform a comprehensive and transparent environmental review, supervised by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, for construction of the pipeline and accompanying compressor stations.

“Throughout the review period, CPG’s project teams will continue to work closely with landowners, local officials and communities to provide up-to-date information and ensure community involvement in the process,” Columbia Pipeline information states.