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Restored FERC could hasten Northern Access approval, National Fuel says

National Fuel Gas Co. hopes that the new commissioners at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could expedite the approval process for its delayed Northern Access 2016 natural gas pipeline project.

With the U.S. Senate voting to confirm Republicans Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to the commission, there is a chance that FERC could adopt National Fuel's arguments, National Fuel CEO and President Ronald Tanski said during the company's fiscal third-quarter earnings call on Aug. 4.

"It's possible that FERC could … determine that the [New York Department of Environmental Conservation] waived its opportunity to act on our water quality certificate by exceeding the timeframe set out in FERC's scheduling order," he said. "If that were to happen, we could receive a notice to proceed from FERC much earlier."

National Fuel is pursuing litigation against the New York agency for denying the certificate and thereby stalling the project, but Tanski said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit may not rule until the spring. Tanski expects the project to be delayed until 2020, if its anticipated scenarios with FERC do not materialize.

The regulatory delays dampened National Fuel's expectations that Northern Access would drive growth in its pipeline and storage segment. The company now expects long-term growth through 2019 and beyond to come from its Empire North expansion project, further expansion of the Line N system and ongoing pipeline system modernization.

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An ongoing expansion of Line D, which would deliver more gas to the Erie, Pa., market, is on track to come online in November and is projected to contribute $2 million in annual revenues. A planned lateral to the Royal Dutch Shell plc cracker in western Pennsylvania would add another $3.25 million in annual revenues once it begins service by mid-2019.

The Empire North expansion project, estimated to cost about $135 million, would add 205,000 Dth/d of capacity to the Empire pipeline and is scheduled to be operational by late 2019 or early 2020. It is expected to generate about $25 million in annual revenues. The FERC application process is underway, and since the project does not involve any major pipeline construction, National Fuel expects permitting to go smoothly with no major roadblocks, Tanski said.

National Fuel reported fiscal third-quarter 2017 consolidated net income of $59.7 million, or 69 cents per share, compared to $8.3 million, or 10 cents per share, in the same quarter last year.