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Waterway group opposes PennEast request for in-service extension

Environmental advocates want the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject an in-service extension request by PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC and have asked a federal appeals court to allow them to reopen a challenge to the company's 1.1-Bcf/d natural gas transportation project.

PennEast's FERC certificate, issued in 2018, required the developer to put the pipeline in service by Jan. 19. Two weeks ago, however, the developer asked for a two-year delay, to 2022, citing what the operator said were unforeseeable circumstances, such as difficulties in obtaining permits.

In a letter to FERC posted Jan. 10, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network urged FERC to reject the request and require the developer to submit a new application with what the group described as a viable route and with more environmental and economic data. The letter argued that PennEast has had enough time to address its legal and regulatory challenges.

"If FERC approves this extension, they will be essentially writing PennEast a blank check allowing them to fill in the route, the species, the waterways, the properties that they will irreparably harm under FERC's rubber stamp," wrote the group, which works on issues that impact the health of waterways in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York.

PennEast declined to comment on the letter.

PennEast is backed by affiliates of Enbridge Inc., Southern Co., New Jersey Resources Corp. South Jersey Industries Inc. and UGI Corp. The project is designed to boost takeaway capacity from producing areas in northeastern Pennsylvania to downstream markets. The 116-mile pipeline would add capacity into the New York City market area.

The Delaware Riverkeeper letter to FERC followed a Jan. 7 request the group filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to lift a hold on a legal challenge to the PennEast certificate. Oral arguments in that challenge had been scheduled for October 2019 but were put off indefinitely by the court, pending resolution of proceedings in other courts related to the pipeline.

One of the biggest obstacles faced by PennEast is a decision by the U.S. Appeals Court for the 3rd Circuit. The ruling not only limited pipeline companies' ability to use eminent domain to obtain right of way on lands in which a state holds an interest but also complicated PennEast's application for a Clean Water Act permit from New Jersey. Based on that court decision, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection denied the pipe's application.

Opposition to natural gas infrastructure expansion in the U.S. has been fierce in recent years, in part due to concerns about the impacts on communities, climate, creeks, wetlands and forests. That opposition has been particularly strong for projects tied to the prolific Appalachian Basin producing region in the Northeast.

Market participants such as PennEast were urged at a recent S&P Global Platts industry conference to be more aggressive in their defense of natural gas, especially in trying to build pipelines to get production from the wellhead to storage facilities, processing plants and liquefaction terminals.

Harry Weber is a reporter with S&P Global Platts. S&P Global Market Intelligence and S&P Global Platts are owned by S&P Global Inc.