Liberty Utilities Seeks To Quell Natural Gas Fears At 'Science Fair' For N.H. Pipeline Proposal

Aug 1, 2019

Liberty Utilities was in Epping Wednesday night making its pitch for the proposed Granite Bridge natural gas pipeline – with an unusual science demonstration.

At the front of a middle school gym, with a few dozen locals watching, California-based energy consultant Erik Neandross donned a white lab coat and picked up a balloon.

He filled the balloon with natural gas – mostly methane – then poured the freezing cold liquid form of the gas over it, causing pops and steam.

“As we cool it, you’re going to see the volume of that balloon reduce,” Neandross said.

The balloon shriveled as the cold condensed the natural gas inside into more liquefied natural gas, known as LNG. It's far denser and smaller in volume than its gas form.

The LNG pooled at the bottom of the shrunken balloon. Then, as it warmed back up, it turned back into gas, until the balloon was floating.

Energy consultant Erik Neandross lets a natural gas-filled balloon float during a demonstration sponsored by Liberty Utilities.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

“Off it goes,” said Neandross, who does these demonstrations for gas developers nationwide. He caught the balloon before it floated above his head. “So that’s Granite Bridge right there.”

Granite Bridge would be a natural gas pipeline, following Route 101 underground between Manchester and Exeter, as well as a storage tank.

It would “bridge” a gap between two older, larger, near-capacity pipelines that run north to south along Routes 93 and 95.

The gas on Granite Bridge is expected to come from hubs in Ontario and Tennessee, supplied largely by fracking operations in places like Pennsylvania.

The fuel would travel through the buried pipeline in gas form – but it's more efficient to store as liquid.

Liberty wants that LNG storage to happen in a large proposed tank that would sit in an old quarry in Epping.

Part of the goal of this event was for Liberty to show they plan to do all this safely – even as protestors outside and lawns nearby carried signs reading “All pipelines leak,” “No tank in my backyard” and “Granite Bridge? Granite bomb!”

Federal data shows it’s relatively rare for leaks to result in fires or explosions that cause serious damage or injuries. And Liberty officials argue gas leaks are less common with newer infrastructure.

Anti-Granite Bridge signs dotted lawns in Epping near where Liberty held its natural gas demonstration Wednesday.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Last fall’s deadly gas explosions in Massachusetts, for example, were triggered by an improperly triggered pressure sensor in an old pipe that was going out of service.

Liberty’s Huck Montgomery says the proposed LNG tank in Epping will be as secure as possible – more than, for example, the National Grid “rainbow” tank outside Boston.

“We’re building this pipeline to the same standard as if it were going in downtown New York City,” said Liberty's Huck Montgomery.

He says Liberty needs the project because demand for gas in the region is on the rise. Without the pipeline to increase their capacity, he says, they’ll have to put a moratorium on new natural gas service nearby.

Plus, he says natural gas has lower carbon and particulate emissions than fossil fuels like heating oil - though when burned, it still emits the carbon dioxide that is driving dangerous global climate change.  

Montgomery says Liberty has built solar and wind energy projects elsewhere, and would do so in this region if they felt it could deliver the benefits they expect from natural gas on Granite Bridge.

"We ran the numbers, and this project is the best way to meet the needs of our customers with the lowest environmental impact,” Montgomery said. “We're really proud of that."

Activists from 350 New Hampshire protested Granite Bridge in Epping Wednesday.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Not everyone is convinced. Brieghan Gardner lives in nearby Nottingham, and came to Epping Wednesday to protest the project.

“Even if I could be convinced that there wasn’t eventually going to be a leak down the line, the technology itself is not safe for our planet,” she said. “Using fossil fuels, we know, is detrimental to our future as a species.”

To move forward with Granite Bridge, Liberty will need to take more public input and win approval from the state Public Utilities Commission, and then the state Site Evaluation Committee.

Liberty's Montgomery sees this as a high bar to clear. He stressed that the SEC is the same board that successfully rejected the Northern Pass transmission line in 2018.

Granite Bridge’s state approvals process will likely last at least into next year.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the liquid poured over the balloon during the science demonstration. It also incorrectly stated that the pipeline will run from Manchester to Stratham. In fact, its end point is in Exeter. This story has been updated.