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New York Urges FERC to Act on Safety Risks of Colocated Algonquin Pipes, Nuclear Plant

Four state agencies in New York are calling on FERC to better address the safety issues that officials claim were uncovered by an independent risk analysis of the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline’s proximity to a nuclear power plant in Westchester County. 

In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sent last week, the New York Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, and the Departments of Public Service, Environmental Conservation, and Health said the state-commissioned report identified areas of “potential concern” that should better inform regulations during the remaining operating life of the Indian Point Energy Center (IPEC) and its decommissioning, which is slated to begin in 2020. The report was conducted by HDR Engineering Inc., which assessed the potential risks of pipeline incidents in the vicinity of IPEC.

“While the probability of pipeline incidents is low, the proximity to Indian Point nuclear plant makes the potential consequences of such an event very significant,” the agencies wrote in the letter about AIM, which is roughly one-quarter mile from IPEC, and other Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC (AGT) pipelines in the area. “Additional scrutiny and monitoring to better understand and reduce risks associated with the Algonquin pipelines is warranted. FERC must engage in further action to mitigate and investigate.” 

The agencies cautioned against authorizing any natural gas capacity increases on AIM and the Algonquin pipelines, indicating that higher operating pressures could increase the risk of a disaster. They also said FERC should require Algonquin owner Enbridge Inc. to regularly test its ability to remotely close valves on the 42-inch, 30-inch and 26-inch diameter pipelines in the vicinity of IPEC. The agencies also urged FERC to work closely with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to coordinate a review of IPEC owner Entergy Corp.’s decommissioning plan when it’s filed.

“Given the heavy excavator work that will be part of decommissioning, FERC may need to require Enbridge to temporarily cease gas operations during the decommissioning activities that may threaten the pipeline integrity,” the agencies said.

Enbridge spokesman Michael Barnes said Algonquin has had pipelines operating in the area for more than 60 years, or before IPEC even entered service.

“The Algonquin Incremental Market project facilities were designed, constructed and are operated and maintained to meet or exceed federal safety standards and regulations,” Barnes said. “Further, the AIM pipeline near Indian Point’s facilities was designed and constructed with additional safety measures, above and beyond what is required by federal law.”

FERC authorized construction to begin on AIM in 2015. New York also approved the project three years ago, issuing its water quality certification. However, in 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration asked FERC to reconsider and stay its authorization until the four state agencies could investigate the pipelines near the IPEC. FERC refused to stop construction.

The NRC reviewed an analysis conducted by Entergy, which concluded that the pipeline as proposed and with certain mitigation measures, would not increase risks to IPEC or reduce safety. FERC agreed, but the agencies said in their letter last week that the Commision should reevaluate whether the NRC and Entergy analyses are sufficient.

Cuomo, whose administration has staunchly resisted natural gas production and infrastructure, ordered the risk analysis in 2016 after facing pressure from environmental groups and others opposed to AIM.

The state agencies have asked FERC to keep the report confidential as it discusses critical infrastructure and the “risk profiles” of colocated gas pipelines and nuclear power reactors. Enbridge said it has not yet seen the report, noting that it was filed directly with FERC.

The 2,311 MW IPEC located north of New York City is slated for closure in 2020, when one of the units there is to be shut down. The second unit is scheduled to close the following year.

AIM came online in 2016 to move 342 MMcf/d of natural gas produced in the Appalachian Basin from Ramapo, NY, to citygates in New England. AGT moves more than 3 Bcf/d through 1,129 miles of pipeline in the Northeast. 

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