December 2019, Vol. 246, No. 12

Editor's Notebook

Williams' Clean Break with Conventional Messaging


By Michael Reed, Editor-in-Chief

In what should be seen in the midstream sector as a long-overdue tactic, Northeast Supply Enhancement (NSE) developer Williams Companies has pointedly been promoting the project’s environmental and safety assets as a chief reason it should go forward.  

Touting natural gas as a cleaner alternative to heating oil and coal while reinforcing the fact that, without the project, the same supply would end up shipped by trucks – creating both pollution and road hazards – Williams CEO Alan Armstrong told Bloomberg recently, “If you are really passionate about climate change, stepping over and ignoring this [project’s] opportunity makes no sense at all.”  

It is a message the industry should invoke more often and with far greater emphasis as companies attempt to steer their way around increased scrutiny from the general public concerning greenhouse gas emissions and the environment.  

The NSE project remains more-or-less on target for completion prior to the winter of 2020, though it appears increasingly unlikely that any supply of natural gas will be shipped through the enhancement in time for the Northeast heating season.   

I say “more-or-less on target,” because despite the obvious advantages of natural gas, opposition remains fierce, though frequently ill-informed.   

As a result, vocal public sentiment opposing projects can make permitting tenuous at best, frequently involving lengthy comments periods and protracted legal challenges. As we go to press, the project still awaits water quality permits from the state of New York.   

A spokesman for Williams told me the company recently withdrew, then resubmitted permitting applications with New Jersey to allow the agencies more time to consider the request.   

Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams’ strategy, in this instance at least, for dealing with opposition and related permitting hurdles should provide something of a primer for other companies in educating the public.  

Case in point: It comes as no secret that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not a fan of fossil fuels in general or pipelines in specific. He has done more than his share to ban fracking in the southern part of his state and successfully blocked pipelines from the resource-abundant Marcellus in Pennsylvania.   

He is also at the forefront of an effort to lower New York’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 – an initiative that Armstrong wisely emphasized would be greatly assisted by the NSE and similar projects.  

“It [the NSE project] really does align well with Gov. Cuomo’s efforts to both continue to grow the economy, as well as reduce emissions pretty dramatically,” the Williams CEO said.  

Once completed, the NSE is expected to provide consumers with an added 400 MMcf/d – enough for 2.3 million homes – as part of the Transco Pipeline System expansion.   

That supply will be headed to National Grid, which anticipates increased demand of about 10% over the next 10 years – much of that growth related to the company’s efforts to convert customers currently using oil to natural gas. This is occurring in New York City and Long Island at a rate of about 8,000 users per year – yet another positive environmental impact that should be emphasized.  

 Williams said the NSE project will require the company to increase compression to its existing system and add about 37 miles of pipeline to its system. This is no small undertaking and will certainly cause some short-term inconveniences for nearby communities.   

However, according to researchers at prestigious Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, the design and construction of the project will generate $327 million in additional economic activity (GDP) in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. It will also directly and indirectly generate 3,186 jobs during construction, or about $234 million in labor income.   

As is often the case with natural gas, the simple truth is once again the best argument to make. 

Related Articles


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}