By Patrick Anderson
Workers on the giant barges building and burying pipeline for the Neptune liquefied natural gas port off the Gloucester shore have finished two-thirds of their work and the final phase of construction this year is scheduled to end next month.
The pipeline is part of a $1 billion LNG project being constructed by Suez Energy. Work on it began in July when the 313-foot-long Lone Star Horizon, run by contractor Cal Dive, started laying pipeline from the terminal location 10 miles southeast of Gloucester to a point 3.12 miles from Marblehead, where it connects to the existing Algonquin HubLine. The HubLine runs from Salem to Weymouth, where it connects to overland pipe.
With the completion of the 13-mile pipeline, the Lone Star was replaced by the 420-foot-long Atlantic, which was responsible for digging a 6-foot-deep trench while stuffing the pipeline inside.
That phase of work ended last Wednesday and this week a third vessel, the 210-foot-long American Constitution, is testing the integrity of the pipeline by pumping it full of seawater and running a series of metal cylinders called "pigs" thought its length.
When the testing is done, expected to be by the end of the week, the Atlantic will begin burying the pipeline.
The burying could be finished as early as the second week in October, Suez spokeswoman Carol Churchill said yesterday, as long as the weather holds up.
Once the pipeline is done, work on Neptune will cease for several months, until construction of the LNG terminal itself begins in May 2009.
The terminal consists of two submarine buoys which will rise to the surface when tankers carrying liquefied natural gas arrive. When the buoys are connected to the tankers, they will vaporize the liquefied gas and convey it into the undersea pipeline.
The project is scheduled to be open to receive shipments from tankers in fall of 2009.
For several years during the planning and permitting of Neptune and the Northeast Gateway terminal now operational just to the west, the projects received criticism from fishermen concerned about being displaced from productive fishing grounds and possible negative effects on the seafloor from an underwater pipeline.
To counteract those concerns, Suez and the builders of Northeast Gateway, Excelerate Energy, each agreed to contribute $23.5 million to a number of maritime causes, including $6.3 million to the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund.
To this point, objection to the projects has not approached the intensity it did during permitting, but many fishermen are still wary of the projects and say the pipeline construction process has put considerable stress on lobstering and gillnetting operations, which are stationary and must be moved when the barges approach.
"I have been hearing a lot of outcry from lobster and gillnetters, that it has played a lot of havoc on their gear," said Vito Calamo, executive director of the Massachusetts Fisheries Recovery Commission. "(Suez) is telling them they only have a few minutes to get their gear out of the way."
Churchill said she is not aware of any problems with fishermen or lobstermen. Suez has hired a number of local boats to help warn commercial and recreational vessels when the barges are approaching, she said.
Excelerate Spokesman Doug Pizzi said no official claims had been filed for equipment damage from Northeast Gateway.
Northeast Gateway opened in May but to this point has only received one delivery outside of its initial commissioning.
The volume of traffic at the port would be determined by demand, Pizzi said, and the current volume was not a cause for concern.
In addition to its primary mitigation package, Suez agreed in August to donate $250,000 to the city so it can install a new natural gas heating system in the central firehouse.
The arrival of that money has been delayed this month because of Hurricane Ike striking Houston, home to Suez Energy, Churchill said.
She said the company has now officially approved the donation and the city should receive the money today.
Patrick Anderson may be contacted at email@example.com.