Federal regulator calls public response to gas pipeline 'unprecedented'

  • Marie Cusick

Alisa Lykens has been with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for 24 years and says she’s never seen such a big response to a project so early on in the process.
Lykens was at Millersville University in Lancaster County Monday night. It was the first in a series of four meetings hosted by FERC to take public comments on a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that would go through ten Pennsylvania counties.
“This is sort of unprecedented, at least in my experience,” Lykens says. “But it’s not surprising. We see there’s a lot of concern and that’s why we’re here.”
More than 300 people showed up, and many spoke out against the pipeline and voiced concerns about how it would affect property values, safety, and the environment.
Mark Clatterbuck was among them. His property could be affected by one of the proposed routes, and he wants FERC to try to quantify the intense public opposition in its analysis of the project.
“I’m just asking them to find a way to measure that,” he says. “Don’t just ignore this issue because it feels slippery.”
The 189 mile pipeline is part of a larger effort –called the Atlantic Sunrise project— from Oklahoma-based Williams Partners to bring Marcellus Shale gas southward to markets in the Mid-Atlantic and southern United States.
FERC is charged with siting the placement of the pipeline. Last month the agency announced it would conduct an environmental impact statement on the project and is accepting public comments through August 18th.
Safety issues are handled by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is part of the federal Department of Transportation. PHMSA engineer Alex Dankanich spoke to the audience before the public comment period began.
“Although pipelines exist in all 50 states, many of us are unaware they exist– most are underground” he says. “Pipelines play a vital role in our daily lives. They are safe and practical.”
In response to public criticism, Williams recently proposed changes to part of the route to avoid several nature preserves in Lancaster County. Spokeswoman Cindy Ivey says the company has been responding to citizens’ concerns.
“As a result of feedback, more than 20 percent of the southern portion of our [pipeline] route has been modified,” she says.
If approved by FERC, the pipeline is expected to be operational by mid-2017.