Major $3B East Coast gas project advances

By Hannah Northey | 05/09/2016 01:10 PM EDT

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a favorable environmental review last week for a $3 billion natural gas project that would connect Marcellus Shale gas wells in Pennsylvania to markets as far south as Georgia and Alabama.

FERC’s draft environmental impact statement found that the so-called Atlantic Sunrise Expansion Project would result in "some adverse environmental impacts" that could be managed.

The project includes almost 200 miles of new pipeline in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, and two new compressor stations.

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FERC staff said the developer, a subsidiary of Houston-based Williams Partners LP, could reduce the environmental effects of building the pipeline to "less-than-significant levels" by following recommendations outlined in the agency’s 472-page draft environmental review.

Commission staff said the project would affect almost 4,000 acres, including wetlands, conservation areas and private property. But they also outlined steps the company could take to protect air and water quality.

Although developers propose to build the line in area with karst — a topography known for sinkholes and caves — and come within 150 feet of private wells and springs, FERC staff concluded it would "not likely to significantly affect groundwater resources because the majority of construction would involve shallow, temporary, and localized excavation."

FERC staff also noted that the community could benefit from increased tax revenues, jobs and wages, and purchases of goods and materials.

And while emissions associated with Williams’ project would contribute to cumulative air quality impacts, FERC staff said increased use of gas could displace other more polluting fossil fuels.

FERC plans to take public comment on the draft review through June 27 before the commission makes a final permitting decision early next year.

Atlantic Sunrise is part of a increasing number of projects the commission is reviewing under the National Environmental Policy Act as the nation grows more reliant on natural gas.

Chris Stockton, a spokesman for Williams, called the agency’s positive review a major milestone for the pipeline proposal.

"We believe the [draft environmental impact statement] positively reflects our efforts to collaborate with other stakeholders to design this project in a manner that minimizes environmental impacts," he said, "while ultimately accomplishing an important goal of connecting consumers all along the East Coast with abundant, cost-effective Pennsylvania natural gas supplies."

Yet Williams, like other gas pipeline developers, is also facing local protests and lawsuits from groups opposed to the spread of fossil-related infrastructure.

Last week, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network sued the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection over a key water approval for the project. The group, which filed its complaint in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, says DEP’s April 5 permit violated the Clean Water Act.

Activist Maya van Rossum accused the Pennsylvania agency of failing to follow requirements under state law for determining whether a Section 401 Water Quality Certification was appropriate and instead issued the certification contingent upon future state permitting of the project. Stockton declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Delaware Riverkeeper also filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in March, alleging that FERC’s approval process for natural gas pipelines violates the Constitution’s due process requirements (Greenwire, March 3).

Click here to read the new draft EIS.

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