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Group Claims Atlantic Sunrise Route Violates Religious Freedoms

A Roman Catholic group in Lancaster County, PA, is suing FERC over its approved route for the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. (Transco) Atlantic Sunrise project, claiming construction on the group's property would violate religious freedoms.

The Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a group of Roman Catholic women who own land in Columbia, PA, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania last week asking that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission be required to develop an alternative route for Atlantic Sunrise that bypasses the group’s' property.

"Part of the Adorers' practice is to protect, preserve and treasure the land that the Adorers own, recognizing the interconnectedness and oneness humans have with creation," according to the complaint. "...FERC's decision to force the Adorers to use land they own to accommodate a fossil fuel pipeline is antithetical to the deeply held religious beliefs and convictions of the Adorers.

"It places substantial burden on the Adorers' exercise of religion by taking land owned by the Adorers that they seek to protect and preserve as part of their faith and, instead, using it in a manner and for a purpose that actually places the earth at serious risk," the complaint continued, calling on the courts to declare that FERC violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by approving the pipeline's route.

The group further practices its faith by "caring for and protecting the land they own as well as actively educating and engaging on issues related to the environment, including the current and future impact on the Earth caused by global warming as a result of the use of fossil fuels."

The FERC certificate order Atlantic Sunrise received earlier this year "has resulted in Transco seeking to condemn the Property to force the Adorers to use their land in a manner contrary to their deeply held religious beliefs and religious practices," according to the complaint.

FERC did not exhaust all options as required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act before approving the route, the group's counsel told the court.

"Because there is the ability to route the Pipeline around the Property, similar to what has been done in numerous other situations, FERC's action is not the least restrictive means for furthering any governmental interest FERC may have in approving the Pipeline," they said.

The group is seeking a stay of FERC's order approving Atlantic Sunrise "as it relates to the Property" until an alternative route can be developed, in addition to attorney's fees and other legal costs.

Atlantic Sunrise is a nearly 200-mile, 1.7 Bcf/d expansion of Transco's system designed to transport Marcellus Shale gas in Northeast Pennsylvania to markets in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. The project includes a roughly 183 mile greenfield segment in Pennsylvania and has been under review by Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection.

Like many other Northeast pipeline projects, Atlantic Sunrise has seen its share of challengers, including a lawsuit seeking to block the project due to FERC's current lack of a quorum to act on rehearing requests.

Expected to be fully in service by mid-2018, Atlantic Sunrise represents a critical new source of takeaway for constrained eastern Marcellus producers like Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., which has contracted for 1 Bcf/d on the expansion.

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