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Pennsylvania Judge Orders Resumption of Constitution Pipeline Tree Felling

A federal district court judge in Pennsylvania has ordered tree-clearing activities for the proposed Constitution natural gas pipeline to proceed, making clear that anyone interfering with the work would be arrested and held in contempt of court.

According to Middle District of Pennsylvania Court records, Constitution Pipeline Co. LLC filed an emergency motion for declaratory judgment on Feb. 12 after more than a dozen opponents of the pipeline blocked the company from accessing two parcels in Susquehanna County, PA, on Feb. 10. The complaint says the Pennsylvania State Police were called and arrived on the scene but said they would not intervene to allow the tree clearing to occur.

Constitution argued that the pipeline's opponents should be held in contempt for violating an order from March 2015, which granted the company eminent domain powers and immediate entry and access to properties in New Milford Township for the pipeline.

On Monday, Judge Malachy Mannion said the "after hearing the testimony of Constitution's witnesses and reviewing its evidence, the court found insufficient evidence to prove that any defendant personally disobeyed" the March 2015 order. But Mannion then authorized the U.S. Marshals Service, or another law enforcement agency, to arrest anyone interfering with the tree felling operations once they resume.

Constitution hopes to finish the tree felling before March 31 to avoid impacting migratory birds and the Northern long-eared bat.

Last month, FERC gave Constitution permission to begin cutting trees in Pennsylvania for its $683 million natural gas pipeline [CP13-499] -- which would transport gas from the Marcellus Shale to markets in the northeast -- but withheld permission for the clearing of trees in neighboring New York State (see Shale DailyFeb. 1).

Constitution is owned by subsidiaries of Williams Partners LP, Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., Piedmont Natural Gas Co. Inc. and WGL Holdings Inc. The approximately 124-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline will transport Marcellus gas produced in northeast Pennsylvania with existing transmission pipelines in Schoharie County, NY, where it would connect with two existing interstate pipelines: Iroquois Gas Transmission and Tennessee Gas Pipeline. It would provide 650,000 Dth/d of takeaway capacity.

Constitution and Leatherstocking Gas Co. LLC have also announced plans to install four delivery taps along the proposed pipeline's route (see Shale Daily, March 19, 2014).

The pipeline will originate in Susquehanna County before crossing into New York and traversing Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Schoharie counties.

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