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FERC schedule slips for Transco project as NY primary politics complicate path for gas

Highlights

Schedule shift relates to air permits

Natural gas debated in NY primaries

Washington — The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has pushed back the timeline for completing its environmental review of Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line's Northeast Supply Enhancement Project to January 25, 2019, from September 17, 2018.

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The revised schedule adds to the federal review timeline for a protect (CP17-101) that would allow for as much as 400 MMcf/d of incremental supply into New York markets and potentially place downward pressure on Transco Zone 6 pricing.

The project is viewed as facing headwinds in state reviews in New Jersey, as well as in New York, where opposition to natural gas has played into the Democratic primary, set for Thursday.

Transco spokesman Christopher Stockton said the company is assessing FERC's updated schedule, "but we currently do not believe it will negatively impact the project's winter 2020 [in-service date]." Williams in August moved its targeted start to the fourth quarter of 2020.

FERC said the change was based on the status of the project's general conformity review with state implementation plans to meet national air quality standards, as well as feasible mitigation options. The NESE project entails a new compressor station in Somerset County, New Jersey, as well as installation of about 23.5 miles of pipeline in the New York Bay, 3.5 miles of pipeline in Middlesex County, New Jersey and 10 miles of 42-inch-diameter pipeline in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

STATE PATH

Washington Analysis in a note said the new FERC schedule "underscores a difficult state-level review path that colors our bearish outlook for the pipeline's chances of being built." It said the delay of the final environmental report will delay the start of critical state reviews. While the project has filed with New York and New Jersey for Clean Water Act Section 401 certifications, state officials have made clear they will not consider the application complete without the final environmental impact statement, Washington Analysis noted. Also pending are determinations under the Coastal Zone Management Act. Transco's NESE could be the next major interstate natural gas pipeline project to run the permitting gauntlet in New York. While the state has denied water permits for some major pipelines, environmental activists were disappointed that these decisions were in certain cases temporary or without prejudice, and that some gas infrastructure has, in fact, gone forward.

In the governor's race, primary challenger Cynthia Nixon has helped pull incumbent Andrew Cuomo to the left in opposing natural gas-fired generation.

With polls currently favoring Cuomo to win Thursday, several analysts said the question remains whether Cuomo, if he prevails, will tack back to the center.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation in April denied without prejudice the water quality certification for the NESE project, and Transco refiled its application in May.

DOWN-BALLOT RACES

Natural gas has also been raised in down-ballot races, such as the tightly contested primary to replace New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Zephyr Teachout, the former gubernatorial candidate who advocated for the state's fracking ban, has met with residents concerned about the Algonquin Incremental Market project. In a recent tweet she said, "when FERC is a rubber stamp, the New York State Attorney General needs to intervene on behalf of New Yorkers in dangerous pipeline projects."

Incumbent New York City comptroller Scott Stringer in a statement last week also called the NESE project "a monumental step backwards" to the city's path to a sustainable future, including its goal of cutting 80% of emissions by 2050, and said allowing construction risks damage to many of New York's most precious habitats and natural assets including New York Harbor, Jamaica Bay and Rockaway beaches.

Stockton called it "unfortunate that some opposed to natural gas have made energy infrastructure such a politicized topic in New York." He added, "the reality is that New York's energy demands continue to grow at a startling rate," and the NESE project "aligns perfect" with New York's Clean Energy Transition Policy by allowing National Grid to continue to convert from heating oil to natural gas.

-- Maya Weber, maya.weber@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jim Magill, newsdesk@spglobal.com