A coalition of environmental groups is urging FERC to deny Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co.’s (Transco) requests to begin construction on the 183-mile greenfield portion of its Atlantic Sunrise expansion.

The project opponents, led by the Sierra Club, told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in a filing this week [CP15-138] that the agency would be in the wrong to allow construction to move forward while a rehearing request challenging the project’s February certificate order remains pending.

Writing on behalf of the Atlantic Sunrise challengers, Sierra Club Staff Attorney Elizabeth Benson accused FERC of wanting “to have it both ways” by delaying action on the rehearing request — and thus delaying a potential court challenge — while allowing project construction to move forward.

FERC staff tolled the rehearing request earlier this year while the Commission lacked a quorum. A tolling order gives FERC more time to reach a decision; otherwise, the request would be denied after 30 days, allowing challengers to seek judicial review.

Opposition groups have argued that the tolling order on Atlantic Sunrise was invalid due to the lack of a quorum.

But assuming it is valid, Benson said allowing Transco to move forward with Atlantic Sunrise construction would “result in permanent deforestation and long-term conversion of other forested lands, permanent removal of wetlands, impacts to numerous water bodies and emissions of significantly increased amounts of air pollution” when FERC’s environmental review could later be ruled inadequate by the courts. Benson referred to the Aug. 22 D.C. Circuit appeals court ruling that FERC’s environmental review of Sabal Trail Transmission LLC and related projects failed to properly consider greenhouse gas emissions.

“FERC’s issuance of notices to proceed — while maintaining that the rehearing request is pending” and that a court challenge is premature — would be “particularly egregious,” Benson wrote. “While allowing harmful construction activities to move forward, FERC attempts to deprive intervenors of meaningful review of its legal claims.

“…The statutory intent on the face of the Natural Gas Act is that petitioners are entitled to timely rehearing and judicial review, which FERC’s approach here attempts to deny. As demonstrated by” the D.C. Circuit’s Sabal Trail decision, “the Commission should not allow construction to move forward until the court has reviewed the certificate order.”

Benson called on FERC to rescind a Sept. 7 notice to proceed with construction for two Atlantic Sunrise compressor stations and other facilities, and to withhold authorization to complete any additional construction pending judicial review of the project.

Asked about the challenge, Atlantic Sunrise spokesman Christopher Stockton told NGI, “The filing by Sierra Club is without merit and should be summarily dismissed by the FERC. It is a veiled attempt by natural gas opponents to delay much-needed energy infrastructure that will help millions of Americans gain access to affordable, reliable, environmentally responsible Pennsylvania-produced natural gas.”

Transco and parent Williams Partners LP have secured key permits in recent weeks for the 1.7 Bcf/d Atlantic Sunrise, which is designed to deliver additional volumes of Northeast Pennsylvania-produced natural gas to market via the Transco system.

Williams said in late August that it had secured water crossing and earth disturbance permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The DEP later approved an air quality plan for Atlantic Sunrise construction activities.

Having previously started construction on the brownfield portions of the project, Atlantic Sunrise began partial service earlier this month, opening up roughly 400,000 Dth/d of interim service along the Transco mainline from Lancaster County, PA, to as far south as Station 85 Zone 4 Pooling Point in Choctaw County, AL.

Williams is looking to begin greenfield construction this week and plans to bring Atlantic Sunrise fully in-service by mid-2018.