FERC study on environmental impacts of Atlantic Sunrise pipeline “insufficient” – EPA decides

Steel pipes
Source: DollarPhotoClub

There is more trouble ahead for the planned Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided that there is “insufficient information” in the preliminary environmental study on the Williams Partners-backed pipeline. The study was prepared by The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and released in May this year.

According to the EPA, the study lacks detailed information including surveys for land and water resources and potential mitigation measures to manage and dispose of contaminated groundwater. It also argued that FERC dismissed two “reasonable alternatives” to the planned route of the pipeline that should be explored further.

In reply to the EPA’s assessment Williams spokesman Chris Stockton pointed out that “both alternatives suggested by EPA were previously dismissed by FERC as unfeasible.”

One alternative suggested by the EPA would be to run the new line along the existing system, meaning 91 percent of the new line would be co-located with existing rights-of-way. The second alternative would be modifying another pipeline proposal by the PennEast company to connect to the existing Transco system. Both alternatives would eliminate planned construction in Columbia and Northumberland counties.

Jeffery D. Lapp, the agency’s associate director of the Office of Environmental Programs, argued in a letter from 27th June, that “these two alternatives appear to have the potential to meet the project purpose and need while minimising adverse environmental impacts,” adding that “EPA is concerned that the selection of the current preferred alternative may result in significant adverse environmental impacts.”

FERC, however, has already dismissed the two options arguing that the first one would result in additional 50 miles of pipeline being laid, affecting additional 605 acres and 768 residences in the process. The PennEast option was deemed unacceptable as it would need to be expanded to meet the volume of natural gas required by Williams’ customers.

In his email sent on Friday, Stockton also pointed out that the EPA permits are not required for the project. EPA’s comments are part of the public comment process FERC undertakes before issuing a final environmental impact statement, due in October.

“FERC will consider and address these and other comments as it finalizes its environmental impact statement. If necessary, FERC will ask us to provide additional data to complete its review,” Stockton said.

An extension of the 10,000 miles-long Williams-operated Transco system, the Atlantic Sunrise project includes construction of 197.7 miles of new pipeline, most of which would be in Pennsylvania, and designed to move Marcellus Shale gas from Northeast Pennsylvania as far south as Alabama. The new lines would cross through ten Pennsylvania counties.

The construction of the $3 billion pipeline is planned to disturb more than 3,900 acres, including 270 acres of interior forest, and cross 50 acres of wetland. The project is strongly opposed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, which in May 2016 filed a lawsuit in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that the issuance of water quality certificates for the pipeline by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection violated the federal Clean Water Act.

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