National Fuel Gas Co. (NFG) has asked FERC for a three-year extension to construct the Northern Access expansion project and place the pipeline into service, as the company continues to wrestle with regulatory delays in New York.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certificated Northern Access in February 2017, giving NFG until February 2019 to finish it and start service. But after the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied the project’s water quality certificate (WQC) last year, finding that it failed to meet the agency’s standards and would negatively impact the environment, a regulatory battle began that has continued to delay the pipeline.
FERC has since waived DEC’s regulatory authority, finding that the agency took too long to issue its decision on the WQC. It’s denial came after nearly three years of review in what FERC viewed as a violation of the one-year statutory timeframe to make a decision. Given the waiver, NFG has revised its target in-service date to 1Q2022 and requested an extension until February 2022 to help meet it.
“A three-year extension of time is necessary because applicants do not anticipate commencement of project construction until early 2021 due to New York’s continued legal actions and to timelines required for procurement of necessary pipe and compressor facility materials,” NFG said in the filing this week.
The company said it will also have to renew the Commission’s Endangered Species Act consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pennsylvania office, which it is currently working to do.
Indeed, the regulatory and legal battles are ongoing. Earlier this month, a New York appeals court denied eminent domain for Northern Access to cross land in the western part of the state after a judge found that the project’s FERC certificate was invalid because it was conditioned on NFG receiving a WQC from New York. The ruling came despite the Commission’s waiver. NFG said reviewing legal options, but maintains the certificate is valid.
Extensions are not uncommon, the Commission has even issued multiple extensions for other projects when the first has proved insufficient. Most recently, FERC granted the Constitution Pipeline LLC another two-year extension as that project continues to fight a similar battle with New York after its WQC was denied by the DEC in 2016.
Northern Access was initially scheduled to enter service two years ago, but NFG first delayed the project until late 2017 on reduced drilling activity caused by the 2014 commodities downturn that impacted the industry for years. The regulatory issues have only led to further delays.
The project would expand the Empire and National Fuel systems to move 490 MMcf/d from affiliate Seneca Resources Corp.’s wells in Pennsylvania to markets in New York, Canada, the Northeast and the Midwest.