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Agency delays decisions on two gas pipelines

By ELIZABETH SKRAPITS

www.citizensvoice.com

Two natural gas pipeline companies will have to wait longer than they wanted for potential approval by the federal agency that authorizes and regulates pipeline projects. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission postponed a decision on the PennEast pipeline to January 2017, seven months later than requested.

FERC’s decision on another project, Williams Companies’ Transcontinental Pipeline Co., LLC’s $2.59 billion Atlantic Sunrise expansion of the Transco interstate pipeline, is also delayed, by 10 months.

FERC staff members compile a comprehensive environmental impact study for each pipeline, which the commission reviews before making a decision whether to approve the projects.

When PennEast Pipeline LLC submitted its application on Sept. 24, 2015, to construct a $1 billion, 118.8-mile pipeline from Dallas Township to Mercer County, N.J., the company authorization for the pipeline by Aug. 1, 2016. But FERC’s schedule for PennEast lists Dec. 16 to issue notice a final environmental impact statement has been completed, and moves the decision on authorization to March 16, 2017.

“The Notice of Schedule should be viewed as the key milestone it is for the development of the PennEast Pipeline Project,” PennEast spokeswoman Patricia Kornick said. “It enables PennEast to take the next steps in its plans to build the PennEast Pipeline Project that will alleviate existing system constraints, increase reliability and deliver reduced costs to local natural gas and electric consumers.”

Kornick went on to state, “Whether it be the construction of a highway, bridge or underground pipeline, many variables are factored into proposed timelines of most major infrastructure projects, including the PennEast Pipeline Project. PennEast is evaluating how the Notice of Schedule might affect its initial proposed timeline and has not revised its current November 2017 in-service date.”

FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said pipeline companies always request an action date, but the commission doesn’t have to adhere to it.

“As far as FERC staff is concerned, we’re on track,” she said. Sometimes FERC staff can meet the proposed action date; “most times we cannot,” Young-Allen said.

That has nothing to do with the merit of the application, she explained: “We’re taking our time and doing a complete and thorough review of the proposal.”

Atlantic Sunrise project

In the case of the Atlantic Sunrise project, Williams filed a formal application with FERC on March 31, 2015. The project involves running approximately 197.7 miles of pipeline from Susquehanna County through Wyoming, Luzerne, Columbia, Northumberland, Schuylkill and Lebanon counties, to connect to an existing line in Lancaster County.

In its application, Williams asked FERC to grant authorization for the project by April 29, in order to “maintain the construction schedule required to meet the July 1, 2017 in-service date for the project.”

However, FERC’s schedule calls for issuing the notice of the final environmental impact study by Oct. 21, and for a Jan. 19, 2017 decision deadline.

Williams spokesman Chris Stockton said the project remains on schedule.

The company has updated its Web site, atlanticsunriseexpansion.com, to reflect the change in timeline.