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1.1-MMDth/d PennEast project passes final environmental review

The PennEast natural gas pipeline project proposed by PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC cleared a final review by FERC environmental staff.

FERC Office of Energy Projects staff concluded in an April 7 final environmental impact statement that the 1.1-MMDth/d pipeline project connecting Pennsylvania to New Jersey would have environmental impacts. However, staff said, with mitigation measures by PennEast and recommendations from FERC staff, most impacts would be reduced to less than significant levels. The staff recommended that the commission, if it decides to authorize the project, attach 61 mitigation measures to the certificate order to help reduce environmental impacts.

One of the mitigation measures recommended by FERC staff was that, before construction, PennEast submit any remaining cultural resources survey reports, resource evaluation reports and recommendations from appropriate state and local agencies concerning preservation.

Like most interstate pipelines, the project received support and opposition. Along with some businesses, New Jersey state Sen. Anthony Bucco and industrial gas consumers asked FERC to approve the project, while former U.S. Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, among others, asked FERC to take a closer look and even halt the pipeline.

PennEast applied for the project in September 2015. FERC issued a favorable draft environmental impact statement, or EIS, in July 2016. The following September, the project sponsor submitted 33 route modifications for the pipeline's path that increased collocation and reduced impacts to wetlands and endangered species. On Jan. 23, 2017, the staff issued a revised schedule that pushed the project's environmental review from Feb. 17 to April 7. The final review was originally scheduled for publication Nov. 8, 2016.

PennEast has described the delays as routine given the size and scope of the project. It was pleased with the environmental thumbs up from FERC staff.

"Today's final EIS is a major step forward for the project," PennEast board of managers chair Dat Tran said. "The thorough review conducted by federal regulators assessed impacts on everything from safety to water resources to air quality and wildlife." The U.S. EPA, Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service participated in the preparation of the environmental review.

PennEast has estimated the pipeline could be in service 2018. The company has executed long-term, binding precedent agreements with 12 shippers, which have contracted for 90% of the project's capacity. The project shippers include Texas Eastern Transmission LP, Consolidated Edison Inc., Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., Talen Energy Marketing LLC, Enerplus Resources (USA) Corporation and Warren Resources Inc. Other shippers include affiliates of PennEast's partners including: UGI Energy Services, New Jersey Natural Gas Co., Pivotal Utility Holdings Inc., South Jersey Gas Co., Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.'s PSEG Power LLC and NRG REMA LLC.

PennEast was formed as a joint venture of Spectra Energy Partners LP, Southern Co. Inc.'s Southern Gas Co., New Jersey Resources Corp.'s NJR Pipeline Co., Public Service Enterprise Group's PSEG Power, South Jersey Industries Inc.'s SJI Midstream and UGI Corp.'s UGI Energy Services. Enbridge Inc.'s Spectra recently agreed to buy PSEG Power's portion of the project.

The project would include installation of approximately 120 miles of greenfield pipeline that would provide year-round gas transportation service from northern Pennsylvania to markets in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and surrounding states. The pipeline would consist of about 116 miles of 36-inch-diameter pipeline in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, plus three laterals of various diameters adding up to a total length of 4.2 miles and one new compressor station in Pennsylvania. The compressor station, which would be in Carbon County, would provide up to 47,700 horsepower of compression.

PennEast plans to build the project in four spreads, with each requiring a workforce of about 665 people. Construction would affect about 1,588 acres of land, with about 288.3 acres maintained for pipeline operation and the remaining areas restored and allowed to revert to their former use. An estimated 44.5 miles of the pipeline's route would be built adjacent to existing rights-of-way. Altogether, the project would take about six to nine months to complete. (FERC docket CP15-558)