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Marcellus-to-New York Pipeline Under Attack at FERC

The proposed Constitution Pipeline has come under attack at FERC from all directions, as landowners and federal officials call on the agency to consider alternatives and put the Marcellus-to-New York natural gas pipeline through a rigorous analysis.

Constitution, a joint venture of Williams Partners LP and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., is expected to be operational by spring 2015, if regulatory approvals are granted.

In a recent letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), David Stilwell, a field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), called on FERC to consider alternative projects. "We are aware of several proposed and existing gas pipeline projects which deliver gas from Pennsylvania to New York (Tennessee Gas Line 300, Stagecoach to Millennium and Texas Eastern). The FERC should require a more thorough review of these projects as alternatives for delivering gas to southeast New York" in its environmental impact statement (EIS) on the Constitution project.

Stilwell questioned the need for the planned 120-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline pipeline, which would connect William Partners' gathering system in Susquehanna County, PA, to the Iroquois Gas Transmission and Tennessee Gas Pipeline systems in Schoharie County, NY. At full capacity the pipeline project would transport up to 650,000 Dth/d of natural gas, according to the FWS (see NGI, April 30).

The FWS suggestions are unusual coming from another federal agency. In approving competing pipeline projects FERC has regularly followed a policy of letting the market decide. The Commission may reject a proposal where not enough competition exists in a market area, but it has not been known in recent years to restrict competitors.

While "project documents indicate that the full capacity of the [Constitution] pipeline is currently under contract...it is not yet clear where the demand is for the gas that is being extracted in Pennsylvania. Nor has it been explained how the existing pipeline infrastructure fails to provide adequate service," Stilwell said.

He recommended that FERC conduct a "thorough analysis of environmental impacts" of all viable alternatives to the proposed Constitution Pipeline, including upgrades to existing pipeline facilities. "If it is determined that a new pipeline facility is warranted, we recommend FERC consider the benefits of co-locating it with existing infrastructure, such as highway rights-of-way and utility corridors."

In a separate filing, Stop the Pipeline (STP), a grassroots coalition, urged FERC to conduct a "vigorous and exhaustive" needs analysis of the Constitution Pipeline before it allows the project to go forth. Constitution is opposed by hundreds of landowners in six counties in Pennsylvania and New York.

"Williams/Cabot has stated that it has contracts to sell the gas it intends to transport, and that those contracts are sufficient proof of the need for the pipeline. If that is true, then the FERC should require the disclosure of those contracts [in the EIS]," said the STP coalition, whose members include interests from Susquehanna County, PA and New York's Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie counties.

"The FERC should...probe who is buying the gas, for what markets, and over what period of time. After all, these corporations have many financial incentives [to construct the pipeline]. For example, Cabot is both an investor in the pipeline and a company that drills for gas, so the pipeline could give it a competitive edge in the new shale formations when New York State opens its borders to drilling.

"Williams also plays multiple roles; it is a majority owner of the proposed pipeline as well as a potential driller of gas, and a provider of gathering lines and other facilities in new drilling fields," said STP. "The FERC should not acquiesce to objections by the Constitution Pipeline Co. to the disclosure of its contracts. The company should not be allowed to use its contracts as both a sword to justify the taking of peoples' property and a shield to guard against scrutiny."

STP further pointed out that the Constitution Pipeline would overlie the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. As such, it is "reasonably foreseeable" that it will be a "magnet for hydraulic fracturing [fracking]," and any environmental review of the pipeline should include all of the impacts associated with a complete build-out of fracking in the proposed pipeline area, the coalition said.

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