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Groups Attack Gas Pipe Projects in Courts, at FERC

December 10, 2012
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Natural gas pipeline expansion projects came under attack last week in the courts and at FERC, including a New Jersey group of pipeline opponents that petitioned a federal appeals court in Washington, DC, to review Commission orders with respect to Spectra Energy's New Jersey-New York Expansion. Tennessee Gas Pipeline and Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line (Transco) projects were the favorite target of environmentalists as well.

The nonprofit NO Gas Pipeline asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order issued in May approving the New Jersey-New York Expansion, and an October order denying rehearing and a request for a stay of the project (see NGI, May 28, Oct. 22).

"As relevant to NO Gas Pipeline's interests, a six-and-a-half mile segment of the pipeline will bisect Jersey City along with a metering and regulation station that will be sited in the city's downtown, endangering the health and security of millions of residents," the group told the court.

The 20-mile expansion of Spectra's Texas Eastern Transmission and Algonquin Gas Transmission interstate pipeline systems, which is already under construction, will provide 800 MMcf/d of "critically needed" natural gas supplies to "high-demand markets" in northern New Jersey and New York City, said Spectra. The project is targeted to be in service in the fourth quarter of 2013.

The embattled project has been fending off attacks from New Jersey and environmental officials for years. It has been opposed by top officials in the state -- Gov. Chris Christie, Rep. William Pascrell (D-NJ) and Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy (see NGI, Jan. 24, 2011) -- but it has received solid support in New York.

Last Monday three environmental groups filed an emergency motion asking FERC to expedite consideration of their request for the agency to rehear a May order approving Tennessee Gas Pipeline's Northeast Upgrade Project, accusing the pipeline of "improperly segmenting" its expansion projects to avoid rigorous environmental reviews.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, New Jersey Highlands Coalition and the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club jointly asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to act quickly on their request for rehearing of the May order, which approved the expansion of Tennessee's existing 300 Line system in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to provide an additional 636,000 Dth/d of Marcellus Shale gas to Northeast markets (see NGI, June 4 ).

"[The] request for rehearing...has now been pending before the Commission for over five months, which is more than enough time for the Commission to make an informed decision. Construction activity on the project is now imminent," the three groups said [CP11-161]. "Each day that the Commission does not either grant or deny rehearing on the project is another day that intervenors have no recourse to address the harms they are experiencing as a result of the Commission's May [order]."

In the May order, FERC rejected arguments that it should have produced a more comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) that would be required of a larger project, rather than an environmental assessment. Some argued that an EIS was warranted to take into consideration the prolific development in the Marcellus Shale basin, which the Tennessee expansion would serve. But FERC responded that the "potential cumulative impacts of Marcellus Shale development are not sufficiently causally related to the project to warrant the comprehensive consideration of those impacts in our staff's analysis."

Some of the same environmental groups that asked FERC to reconsider the order approving Tennessee's Northeast Upgrade Project last Monday called on the agency to rescind its order approving Transco's Northeast Supply Link project until a full environmental impact statement has been conducted.

In its November order giving the project the green light, the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, Sierra Club New Jersey Chapter, Food & Water Watch, Fight the Pipe and Clinton Township, NJ, claim the Commission order violated the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by providing an inadequate review of the cumulative impacts associated with the Transco project.

The Northeast Supply Link project would provide additional firm transportation service from the Marcellus Shale to meet growing demand for natural gas in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City. It would supply 250,000 Dth/d of incremental firm transportation capacity from supply interconnections on Transco's Leidy Line in Pennsylvania to its 210 Market Pool in New Jersey and the Manhattan, Central Manhattan and Narrows delivery points in New York City.

"Because this project is a major construction project using right-of-ways in which there are no existing natural gas pipelines and the project will have significant effects on the environment, the Commission was required to prepare an environmental impact statement in order to comply with NEPA," the environmental groups argued [CP12-30, PF11-4]. However, they noted that FERC opted for the less-inclusive environmental assessment of the project, issued in August, in which the results were favorable.

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