Utilities Eye Natural Gas Pipeline In Worcester

BERLIN — One week after a local utility company reported it has spent decades putting in place the infrastructure needed to make the transition from propane to natural gas in Worcester County, another regional company this week announced it was continuing its push south through Delaware toward Maryland to potentially make the changeover possible as soon as the end of this year.

In response to a recent effort by Worcester County Commissioner Judy Boggs to encourage the switch from propane to clean-burning, efficient natural gas in government buildings, schools and even private residences across Worcester, Eastern Shore Gas (ESG) announced last week it has been working toward a possible transition to natural gas in the county for several years. ESG officials announced in a statement it has steadily been in the process of retrofitting propane gas mains and other lines for the last several years whenever repairs or replacements have been required in anticipation of a future transition to natural gas in Worcester.

“During this 20-year period, all gas mains installed or replaced were sized to accommodate a future natural gas supply,” the ESG statement read. “In order to accomplish this objective, time, energy and money must be expended to connect to an adequate supply line, convert existing customer appliances from propane gas to natural gas, and finally, distribute the supply to its customers.”

Just two days after ESG released its statement to The Dispatch, another major player in the possible future transition, the Chesapeake Utilities Corporation, announced it was exploring an extension of natural gas service to Worcester County as a result of increasing interest in the community for the transition.

“The people of Worcester County are asking for clean burning natural gas now because of its cost relative to alternative fuels, as well as its environmentally friendly features,” said Chesapeake Utilities Senior Vice President Stephen C. Thompson. “We are currently assessing the economic viability of expanding our pipeline and distribution infrastructures. If deemed economically viable, and pending any required regulatory approvals and franchise agreements, natural gas could be available in northern Worcester County by the end of 2011.”

Chesapeake Utilities, one of the fastest growing natural gas distribution utilities in the country, with its pipeline subsidiary, has been expanding natural gas from northern Delaware south along Route 113 into Sussex County for the last decade. As part of a proposed 2011 pipeline expansion project, natural gas could soon become available in places like Dagsboro, Frankford and Selbyville, for example, assuming all necessary governmental approvals are granted. With the ESG infrastructure already in place through much of Worcester, a Chesapeake Utilities expansion south into the county could provide a partnership opportunity with Eastern Shore Gas. An extension of Chesapeake Utilities’ natural gas transmission line into Worcester could provide the foundation for an expansion natural gas distribution network in the county.

“The company is excited about the opportunity to provide the residents and businesses in Worcester County with a new energy alternative,” said Thompson.

Meanwhile, Eastern Shore Gas officials this week said they are open to partnering with Chesapeake Utilities should the company extend its transmission line into Worcester.

“Eastern Shore Gas considers the press release of Chesapeake Utilities to be consistent with the statements of Eastern Shore Gas recently reported,” the company’s statement reads. “In fact, that press release reinforces the stated goals of Eastern Shore Gas to be in a position to provide natural gas to Worcester County communities in the foreseeable future.”