Williams pipeline project moves ahead, with ‘heat’

Expansion of the Williams Transco pipeline that will transport natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region to markets in the U.S. is expected to continue this year

The 185-mile Central Penn Line, part of the Atlantic Sunrise Project, includes 185 miles of pipeline through parts of central Pennsylvania, according to Williams spokesman Chris Stockton.

With construction of that piece expected to begin later this year, some conservation groups are asking that the project follow regulations.

“This past December we received our final environmental impact statement,” Stockton said. “That is the culmination of several years of work addressing several things that have come up.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, he noted, approved the project with certain mitigations.

Following a hearing process, it was determined the project would not cause significant impact to the environment.

The Atlantic Sunrise Project is designed to bring natural gas to 7 million homes with connections in northeastern Pennsylvania to the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern states.

“It allows us to expand the reach of Transco,” said Stockton.

Natural gas drilling has fallen drastically in recent years in the state and gas prices remain low, but much of the resource still is waiting to get to market.

Company officials noted natural gas fuels 33 percent of electric power generation and heats half of all U.S. homes.

Meanwhile, groups speaking out against drilling and construction of pipelines continue to make their voices heard.

PennFuture and other conservation organizations in January requested that FERC not deviate from regulations in issuing a certificate decision on the project.

On Feb. 3, FERC reportedly issued the certificate of public convenience authorizing it.

Alice Baker, a PennFuture attorney, said the environmental impact statement was finalized in December.

She said it normally is a 90-day period before FERC takes action to issue a final certificate and expected it not to happen until March.

In its filing with FERC, PennFuture and the other groups, which include the Sierra Club, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future and Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper, state in part: “The real reason for this request is that Transco has repeatedly failed to provide information on a timely basis and now, to make up for lost time, wishes to cut corners by bypassing well-established procedural safeguards. It is also the quintessential demand to put corporate profits ahead of local communities. We respectfully urge FERC to deny Transco’s request.”

The groups further noted it would not be reasonable for the information to be reviewed and for meaningful feedback to be provided in such a short period.

“We signed onto a letter with other environmental groups that FERC not honor their latest request,” Baker said.

Stockton said there is no requirement on how soon the commission can issue an order.

“The 90-day period applies to other related permits from other cooperating federal agencies. FERC can issue an order at any time following the issuance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement. No one is undermining the environmental process. The FERC has been studying this project for nearly three years. We believe the FEIS was extremely thorough and comprehensive, underscoring our collaborative efforts to design the Atlantic Sunrise project in a manner that minimizes environmental impacts, while fulfilling the critical need of connecting consumers all along the East Coast with abundant, cost-effective Pennsylvania natural gas supplies. Our request is to ensure that the FERC is aware of critical upcoming construction windows needed to maintain the project schedule and meet customer commitments.”

Rory Miller, senior vice president of Williams Partners’ Atlantic-Gulf Operating area said, “While we are still reviewing details of the certificate order, we are pleased FERC has approved this much-needed energy infrastructure project which will leverage existing infrastructure to help millions of Americans gain access to affordable Pennsylvania-produced natural gas.”

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