Natural gas distributor explains proposed local service

BY STACI WILSON

Since natural gas development began in the area many people have asked when they would be able to hook up to the local fuel source.

Enter Leatherstocking Gas Company, LLS, a partnership between Corning Natural Gas Corporation and Mirabito Holdings Inc.

Leatherstocking is looking for Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission approval to establish a local distribution network for natural gas inSusquehannaCounty’s population center.

PUC approval of the Leatherstocking application is being fought byUGIPenn Natural Gas Inc. who filed a protest against it on Dec. 27, 2011.

In its protest filing,UGIstated it had an interest that would be affected and it had engaged in market development of the area covered by Leatherstocking’s application and had planned to file its own application with the PUC in the near future.

UGIalso argues that Leatherstocking failed to demonstrate a public need for natural gas service in northernSusquehannaCounty.

In information meetings held Friday in Montrose and Monday inNew Milford, Leatherstocking principles counteredUGI’s assertions and outlined their plans to provide natural gas service to local residents and business owners.

Third generation oil businessman Joseph Mirabito, CEO of Mirabito Holdings, told the audience of over 50 people gathered at Blue Ridge Monday night, that he has competed against natural gas suppliers his entire life.

But that changed when he saw similarities between what was happening inSusquehannaCountyand what occurred in the past in upstateNew York.

“The city people took over our water. We export our water toNew York City,” Mirabito said. “They also took our economic rights.”

He said over the years, his home county –Delaware County,N.Y.– has seen a deterioration in its economic quality of life.

“I see this great natural resource you have,” Mirabito said. “And I see people benefiting who are not local. I think we should export (natural gas) from the area only after it’s made available to local people.”

To that end, Mirabito began the Leatherstocking Gas partnership with Corning Natural Gas.

Corning Natural Gas, said CEO Michael German, is a local natural gas distribution company which was built on supplying natural gas service in small, rural communities.

Currently, Corning Natural Gas serves 15,000 customers in twoNew Yorkcounties; and he added the local economy and manufacturing in that area has prospered as a result of having access to natural gas service.

Leatherstocking would follow that same model, German said.

Corninghas been bringing Marcellus gas to its customers since 2009 when it began piping gas from 10 wells inTiogaCounty.

“We now have some of the lowest cost gas inNew YorkState,” German said.

With oil currently priced at over $100 per barrel and natural gas priced at about $15 barrel, German said, “Every day that goes by, this county is at an economic disadvantage.”

He said that if the company receives PUC approval, Leatherstocking would be in a position to begin connecting wells and gathering systems to end users – residents and businesses – inSusquehannaCounty.

“That’s our business. That’s all we do,” German said.

He also said he expected the creation of many local jobs during the build-out of the proposed natural gas service lines, as well as jobs for local HVAC contractors.

Leatherstocking, German said, also expects to open an office in the area to service its customers.

During a proposed five-year build-out plan, Leatherstocking will first take advantage of a tap built into the Laser line in the Hallstead-Great bend area.

With Laser’s sell-off to Williams Companies, Leatherstocking has also been in talks to establish a second tap on the line to service the Montrose area.

German also said that as soon as Bluestone Gathering clears hurdles inNew York, service could also be brought toNew Milford.

But the potential for low-cost, local fuel is dependant on the PUC’s approval of Leatherstocking’s franchise application which was filed in November 2011.

Matthew Cook, Vice President of Operations & Engineering forCorning, spoke about the Corning Natural Gas’ safety record and the nuts and bolts of installing a local distribution line.

The Leatherstocking reps said the company will not seek to use eminent domain, explaining that with a PUC franchise approval, the company would be able to utilize the existing utility right-of-way.

And unlike municipal sewer or water systems, property owners are not required to hook up to the natural gas service.

Russell Miller, Vice President of Corning Natural Gas, told the audience that natural gas service would provide consumers with a low-cost, clean-burning and abundant heating fuel.

A PUC hearing date on the Leatherstocking application has not yet been set.