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Enviros Ask Pennsylvania to Reconsider Scope of Northern Access Pipeline Project

Three environmental organizations have asked the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to extend the public comment period on water quality permits for National Fuel Supply Corp.'s Northern Access 2016 pipeline project and related permits for Seneca Resources Corp. shale development.

Pennsylvania-based Allegheny Defense Project along with West Virginia-based Appalachian Mountain Advocates and the Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air sent their request to the agency last week, arguing that permit applications for both activities were incomplete because they failed to cite the cumulative effects of development.

"DEP must consider the combined environmental impacts of both NFG Supply's Northern Access 2016 project and Seneca's related shale gas development in the Clermont/Rich Valley area of Cameron, Elk and Mckean counties," the groups wrote. "The NFG Supply Notice for the Northern Access 2016 project...provides no information regarding Seneca's related shale gas development. Similarly, the Seneca notice provides no information regarding NFG Supply's related Northern Access 2016 project."

The DEP on Aug. 20 published notice of water obstruction and encroachment permit applications for Seneca's plans to build a natural gas well pad and associated facilities in Elk and McKean counties. The agency is already considering permit applications for NFG Supply's Northern Access project in the same area of Northwest Pennsylvania, the groups said, leaving little time for the public to weigh the full impact of all the activity.

Northern Access would expand the NFG Supply and Empire pipeline systems to transport about 350,000 Dth/d of natural gas from Seneca-operated wells in Northwest Pennsylvania to markets in the Northeast and Canada. Seneca is the upstream subsidiary of National Fuel Gas Co (NFG).

The company curtailed 45 Bcfe of production last year and has already curtailed 28.4 Bcfe this year as the result of low commodity prices and takeaway constraints. Earlier this year, NFG said it would delay the Northern Access project until late 2017 on its reduced activity (see Shale DailyFeb. 5). The system would involve constructing about 97 miles of 24-inch diameter pipeline in Pennsylvania and New York.

The groups cited other unrelated DEP air quality proceedings in which the agency noted that "projects may not be segmented in order to dilute environmental impacts." With a number of stream and wetland crossings planned for Northern Access, the groups said, the "same rationale should apply in the context of water quality."

They've requested that DEP notify NFG Supply and Seneca that their applications are incomplete for failing to detail the cumulative impacts of a pipeline project and related shale development and have requested that, "at a minimum," the public comment period on the applications be extended another 30 days, which would push the end of that process toward the end of the year.

FERC issued a favorable environmental assessment for the Northern Access project last month, noting that the company has submitted thousands of pages of detailed environmental analysis documents during the certification process (see Daily GPIJuly 27). Seneca has highlighted plans this year to continue developing its Western Development Area in the Northwest part of the state, where it has long been active (see Shale DailyAug. 8). The Allegheny Defense Project and others made similar arguments about the cumulative effects of Northern Access and Seneca's shale development during Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proceedings, the commission said in issuing its EA. 

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