OCEAN PINES – To say that Bud Shea was enthusiastic about the recent announcement that Chesapeake Utilities was more aggressively exploring bringing natural gas to Worcester County, doesn’t quite get at his level of satisfaction. After a not-insignificant amount of lobbying by Shea and his dozen or so friends the utility was convinced that Worcester County generally and Ocean Pines specifically possessed enough interest to make the investment worth while.
Last week the company announced its intention to make natural gas an option for area residents whose choices have up until recently been limited to oil, propane or electric. But company senior vice-president Steve Thompson said there’s still plenty to be done before the conversion. Retail distributors willing to tap into the pipeline would have the opportunity to do so once the pipeline is complete.
Although bringing natural gas to Worcester County has been part of the plan since the company brought gas to Salisbury and began moving down the Delaware coast, Thompson said the growing demand for the product, especially the interest shown by Shea and his group, made it clear that there was sufficient demand in the area.
“We were aware many residents of Ocean Pines were interested in natural gas,” he said. “The timing just worked out.”
Thompson said that the company should be able to convince federal regulators to allow the project to continue down the coast and that barring any snags over franchising or easements at the county level, his company’s natural gas line should be ready to be tapped this year.
The pipeline is run by the Chesapeake Utility subsidiary Eastern Shore Natural Gas, which is in no way related to Eastern Shore Gas (ESG), the company currently providing Ocean Pines with propane. Once the line becomes available there are still plenty of hurdles, however.
“We’d started talking to Eastern Shore Gas about the plan several years ago,” Thompson said.
The first is whether the propane provider wants to get into the natural gas business. If it does, ESG will have to convert its delivery systems, which can be an expensive proposition. Given that it is an either-or proposition — the current infrastructure cannot carry both types of gas at once, there would have to be a full conversion area wide.
The other option is for Chesapeake Utilities retail arm to become the area’s distributor for natural gas. While this option may take a little longer because of the infrastructure that needs to be put into place, it would likely allow potential customers to choose between natural gas or propane.
Thompson said that the company is currently evaluating the market to see how aggressively to proceed in establishing distribution to Worcester County locations. Should the demand be sufficient, Chesapeake could establish home service to all areas of the county.