Getting its ducks in a row while it still had a quorum, FERC handed down a slew of orders Friday while setting the terms for how the agency will conduct important business after the departure of Commissioner Norman Bay.
With Bay's surprise plans to exit Friday, leaving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with only two out of five sitting Commissioners, the agency had several high profile natural gas pipeline projects with completed environmental reviews on its desk, ready for a potential order. This prompted backers of those projects to lobby the Commission for a decision by Friday to avoid the uncertainty of waiting on new appointments.
In an order handed down late Thursday, FERC finally gave its blessing to Energy Transfer's Rover Pipeline Project, a decision that had been a long time coming after the Commission issued a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the 3.25 Bcf/d pipeline last summer.
Then, just as the business world prepared to head home for the weekend, FERC handed down an order for Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co.’s Atlantic Sunrise expansion, creating another reason for constrained Appalachian Basin producers to celebrate.
Other natural gas projects were still hoping for an order as the close of business approached Friday, though the late arrival of the Atlantic Sunrise decision raised the possibility that FERC would be burning the midnight oil to push more business through.
National Fuel Gas Co.'s (NFG) Northern Access Expansion was among those waiting for FERC action Friday. Analysts at ClearView Energy had considered Northern Access far enough along in its review to be ripe for an order before Bay's resignation took effect.
In a 4Q2016 conference call Friday, NFG management seemed puzzled that Rover had received a certificate order while Northern Access had not to that point, saying their project was ahead in the FERC queue.
"I wish we knew, given the fact that once you've filed, you can't have direct or individual conversations with FERC staff," CEO Ronald Tanski said. "We don't have a real good handle on their thought process."
Last month NFG delayed the start-up for the Northern Access project based on the prolonged FERC review process.
The Nexus Gas Transmission LLC pipeline also appeared like it might get left behind Friday. ClearView said an order on the project would have meant a time crunch for the Commission. Nexus received its FEIS in late November.
Those projects not saved by last-minute, after-hours action from FERC Friday will face the prospect of waiting for new Commission appointments before getting their Natural Gas Act certificates. As of right now, there's no definitive timeframe for when FERC will return to full strength, though industry lobbyists have urged the Trump Administration to act quickly.
Meanwhile, preparing for life with two Commissioners, FERC issued an order Friday delegating certain authority to its staff while it lacks a quorum.
FERC staff will be authorized to act on rate filings; grant extensions of time and waiver requests; and approve uncontested settlements. The delegation order does not grant staff the authority to issue orders approving certificate applications for natural gas projects.