FERC Thursday approved an application that would enable Columbia Gas Transmission to expand its system to shore up natural gas service to Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (BG&E) and other significant markets in the North and East.

Columbia said that the Line MB Expansion is part of a system-wide, approximately $2 billion, five-year modernization program designed to improve its aging infrastructure. The project would be built roughly parallel to Columbia’s existing Line MA, extending Line MB between its existing Owings Mills metering and regulation (M&R) station in Baltimore County, MD, and Rutledge Compressor Station in Harford County, MD.

The project is designed to improve interstate natural gas service reliability for local utilities that serve residents and businesses in central Maryland and surrounding regions. It also would reduce system vulnerability to pipeline outages and better facilitate pipeline safety inspections without disrupting natural gas service. The Line MB project would not add more capacity to Columbia’s system but rather would provide reliability of service in the event Line MA had to be taken down for maintenance or some other reason, according to the company.

“Columbia identified [the existing] Line MA, from Owings to Rutledge, as one of its highest priorities because it serves [BG&E’s] large metropolitan market and additional significant markets farther north and east. Columbia states that customers served from Line MA as susceptible to prolonged outages if service is required to be interrupted for repairs or maintenance because Columbia has only a single line in that corridor,” according to application.

The NiSource pipeline subsidiary further told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that “no other pipelines in the area directly connected to BG&E have capacity available during high-flow periods to adequately provide emergency replacement gas deliveries.”

Based on its arguments, “we find that Columbia has substantiated the need for the proposed project,” the FERC order said [CP13-8]. FERC further granted Columbia’s request for a predetermination to roll in the costs of the expansion in its next Section 4 general rate case.

The expansion calls for the phased construction of approximately 21.1 miles of 26-inch diameter pipeline from the current terminus of Columbia’s existing Line MB near Owings Mills to the existing Rutledge Compressor Station; crossover pipelines at the Owings Mills M&R station, the Beaver Dam M&R, and the Manor Road M&R, and a mainline valve near the Rutledge Compressor Station to enable crossover flows between Lines MB and MS; two 26-inch and 30-inch bi-directional pig launcher/receivers; and two 26-inch diameter, below-grade mainline valves at points on the proposed Line MB extension near existing mainline valves on Columbia’s Line MA in Baltimore and Harford counties.

The project, which the company estimates will cost about $132 million, is expected to be placed into service by the end of 2014.