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FERC Green-Lights Empire North Project

FERC has conditionally authorized a request from Empire Pipeline Inc. for its Empire North project, which would provide an additional 205,000 Dth/d of incremental firm interstate natural gas transportation service to local gas distribution markets and market centers in the northeastern United States and Canada.

The project would involve construction of one new compressor station in Tioga County, PA, and another in Ontario County, NY, along with the uprate of the existing maximum allowable operating pressure of the Empire Connector Pipeline from 1,290 pounds per square inch gauge (psig) to 1,440 psig, and the the abandonment by removal of several small sections of pipeline. Empire estimates the cost of the project at $142 million.

Following an open season in 2015, Empire entered into 15-year binding precedent agreements for firm transportation service with Repsol Oil & Gas USA LLC for 150,000 Dth/d, National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp. for 35,000 Dth/d, EnergyMark LLC for 5,000 Dth/d, and a 10-year binding precedent agreement with Greenidge Markets and Trading LLC for 15,000 Dth/d.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the National Fuel Gas Supply Co. (NFG) affiliate a certificate of public convenience and necessity for Empire North by a 3-1 vote, with Richard Glick voting against the project.

In a dissenting opinion published with the order, Glick objected to FERC's consideration of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as he has in other decisions.

"As it has done previously, the Commission again refuses to consider whether the project's contribution to climate change from these emissions would be significant, even though it quantified the increase in direct GHG emissions from the project's construction and operation," Glick wrote. "Moreover, the Commission chose not to consider the project's contribution to climate change from upstream and downstream GHG emissions.

"This failure to evaluate and consider the project's harm from its contribution to climate change flouts our obligations under the Natural Gas Act and National Environmental Policy Act. I cannot countenance an approach that acts as if climate change is not relevant to the public interest."

Cheryl LaFleur voted with the majority for the project, but in a concurring statement said that she had used a methodology developed by the Environmental Protection Agency to estimate Empire North's downstream GHG emissions as high as 3.97 million metric tons per year and suggested that FERC adopt such a methodology.

"Indeed, the Commission makes challenging determinations on quantitative and qualitative issues in many other areas of our work, but has simply chosen not to attempt a significance determination in this context," LaFleur said.

NFG received a favorable environmental assessment (EA) last year for the Empire North project. The company expects a second half FY2020 in-service date.

Last week, FERC announced that it would prepare an EA for NFG's FM100 Project and Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co.'s Leidy South Project, which together would boost natural gas capacity from northwest Pennsylvania to markets in the New York City area.

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