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Large gas buyers want to smooth FERC, state 'hurdles' to pipeline growth

A panel of large U.S. natural gas customers said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and states should pick up the pace of pipeline reviews to provide more transportation capacity on a system that can bump up against its limits, especially in the Northeast.

John Tammaro, gas supply manager for National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp., said the affiliated Northern Access pipeline expansion was "all ready to go" before New York stopped the process on its Clean Water Act Section 401 certificate. The company is awaiting a decision from FERC on the nearly 500,000-Dth/d pipeline, designed to take gas from northern Pennsylvania to market hubs in New York.

"They have a huge impact on what we do, and we're trying to work with them to get things done," Tammaro said June 13 at the LDC Gas Forum Northeast in Boston. "But FERC and the states are two hurdles we always have to address."

National Fuel Gas Distribution is the utility affiliate of National Fuel Gas Co. New York has slowed new natural gas pipeline projects over environmental concerns. More generally, the state, which has banned hydraulic fracturing, is working to move away from fossil fuels.

Tammaro's comments on a gas buyers' panel at the Boston conference came as FERC considers updates to its guidelines for pipeline reviews, established in 1999. FERC has reached out for input from the pipeline industry, the public and other interested parties. Environmental groups have asked the commission to undertake more analysis of pipeline projects to make sure they are needed by society and to protect people and the environment.

On the gas buyers' panel, Jeffrey Avery, director of commercial gas strategy at the Tennessee Valley Authority, said he would like to see the process streamlined because pipeline reviews take too much time.

Paul Rossi, energy manager for the Defense Logistics Agency, which supports about 200 Department of Defense and federal civilian installations across the U.S., agreed. Rossi said the length of time for even small natural gas projects has lengthened from about one year to 1.5 years. He said the need for more pipeline capacity is especially noticeable for the agency's facilities in the Northeast, which can have a problem getting gas during periods of peak demand such as winter cold spells.

Rossi said he is happy that the commission returned to its full strength in 2017 after a period in which it lacked quorum to make major decisions and that it quickly moved on its backlog of pipeline permit applications. "Net-net, I think we are in a better place from a FERC perspective and a regulatory point of view," Rossi said.