Companies providing ‘virtual pipeline’ for natural gas

A Charlestown company will break ground next month on a 3.5-acre facility in Worcester that will compress natural gas so it can be loaded onto trucks and delivered to industrial and commercial customers without access to pipelines.

The compressor station, developed by Innovative Natural Gas, a spinoff of Charlestown’s Alternative Vehicle Service Group, is believed to be the first of its type in Massachusetts and part of a growing segment of New England’s energy industry

Several New England companies, including NG Advantage in Milton, Vt., and Xpress Natural Gas in Boston, already compress and transport natural gas, creating a “virtual pipeline” to deliver the cheap and abundant fossil fuel to customers outside utility service areas. Large portions of New England, particularly in the north, don’t have natural gas pipelines, which results in higher heating and industrial processing costs for them.

Oldcastle Inc., a manufacturer of building materials, has plants in nearly every state, including 130 across New England, many without access to natural gas pipelines. Four of the its New England plants — in Lebanon, N.H., and three Vermont communities — have been using compressed natural gas delivered by NG Advantage.

While the trucked-in version is more expensive than piped natural gas, the company’s switch from oil has cut the fuel costs at these plants by 20 to 40 percent, said Dan Brodeur, New England energy manager for Oldcastle, which has US headquarters in Atlanta. These savings have allowed the company to set lower prices, which has led to more sales and a 2 to 5 percent increase in hiring.

The price of natural gas has plunged in recent years as the controversial technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has opened vast reserves in shale formations and spurred a boom in US production. Industrial prices of natural gas have run at least half the price of fuel oil in recent years, according to the US Energy Department.

But a lack of pipeline capacity in New England has prevented the region from tapping abundant supplies. At least two companies have proposed expanding existing pipelines or building new ones to bring more natural gas into the region, but those projects, costing billions of dollars, are still years away. “Read more”


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