Williams Partners LP (WPZ) said Thursday it has started up the Springville natural gas gathering pipeline, one of the building blocks in its plan to secure large-scale infrastructure in the capacity-constrained Marcellus Shale. Springville initially would help deliver 300 MMcf/d to Northeast markets.

The 33.5-mile, 24-inch diameter pipeline connects a gathering system in Susquehanna County, PA, in northeastern Pennsylvania with WPZ's Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line, or Transco, in Luzerne County, PA.

"The Springville system is part of our strategy to offer natural gas producers in this part of the Marcellus Shale independent, market-based solutions to gather production and deliver it to the growing Northeast markets," said WPZ's Rory Miller, senior vice president of the midstream unit. "We expect to double the initial takeaway capacity on Springville by the end of this year by adding compression."

Since 2009 WPZ has acquired two major gathering systems in Pennsylvania and is in the process of acquiring a third. It has been working to expand its operations in all areas.

Williams owns 75% of WPZ, including the general partner interest. Williams CEO Alan Armstrong lately has touted the company's strategy to spin off its exploration arm to focus on growing midstream operations. In November he said a variety of "large-growth assets" could be immediately accretive to Williams' balance sheet, "but for the most part those are going to be smaller kinds of assets, emerging assets" (see Shale Daily, Nov. 3).

With the Springville startup, WPZ's gathering system in northeastern Pennsylvania now covers three counties -- Susquehanna, Wyoming and Luzerne -- and is connected to three interstate market outlets: Tennessee Gas Pipeline, Millennium Pipeline and Transco. WPZ said it was moving more than 600 MMcf/d in this region at the end of last year.

The partnership recently said it would acquire the Laser Northeast Gathering System from Delphi Midstream Partners LLC to add to its northeastern Pennsylvania portfolio (see Shale Daily, Dec. 23, 2011). The 16-inch diameter, 33-mile pipeline and associated gathering facilities serves Susquehanna County and includes 10 miles of gathering pipeline in southern New York. The acquisition is expected to be completed by the end of March.

Work also continues on the Laurel Mountain Midstream joint venture in southwestern Pennsylvania, WPZ noted. The system, which was acquired in 2009, is being expanded and upgraded. By the end of March WPZ expects to add another 50 miles of gathering pipeline to the system.