Builders finish gas pipeline to East Coast

Increased capacity will open markets for natural gas produced in Rocky Mountains

Pipeline builders have completed the last miles of a $6.7 billion, 1,700-mile journey to deliver locally produced natural gas to faraway markets in the eastern United States.

The last, 179-mile leg of the 42-inch-diameter Rockies Express Pipeline goes into service today, extending the pipeline to its eastern terminus in Clarington on Ohio’s eastern border. The project began serving Missouri last year, and reached western Ohio this summer.

The completion of the last leg adds more delivery capacity for Rockies gas, which until recently had suffered from pipeline constraints that created a regional gas surplus. That helped depress the price of locally produced gas and contributed to a drilling slowdown.

The Rockies Express project also will help meet energy needs of consumers and businesses in the East. And during construction, it helped buoy depressed economies in states such as Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, pipeline spokesman Allen Fore said.

“We came in those states with all of these construction jobs and all of these workers descending on these communities,” Fore said.

He said some businesses in those communities said the construction work kept them from closing.

Rockies gas producers can take a lot of the credit for a project that employed about 20,000 construction workers during its peak, Fore said.

“If it wasn’t for the source of the gas, there wouldn’t be a Rockies Express Pipeline — hence the name. The folks that helped produce this (gas) certainly had a role to play in helping people really all across the country in a tough economic climate,” Fore said.

A local producer, EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), got the project started four years ago on its western end, before selling what was then the Entrega pipeline for $244 million in 2006, EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said. The Entrega section runs from Meeker into Wyoming, and then east to Cheyenne.

Kinder Morgan owns half of Rockies Express, while ConocoPhillips and Sempra Energy each own 25 percent.

Fore said while other interconnecting gas pipelines link the regions, Rockies Express is the only single-pipeline, direct transportation system between the Rockies and the East.

Just this week, Williams announced completion of a 26.4-mile pipeline to help connect locally produced gas with western U.S. markets.

Even as pipeline capacity to transport Rockies gas has been increasing, the drilling slowdown has cut production, helping to erase the local gas surplus and the resulting differential between Rockies gas prices and the price at key distribution hubs elsewhere. However, with gas prices nationally remaining relatively low, initial reports from local producers indicate there will be little increase in drilling activity next year compared with this year.

Sentinel reporter Le Roy Standish contributed to this report.


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