The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project won preliminary approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday, paving the way for the $3 billion expansion of the Transco system to move forward as environmentalists simultaneously filed a federal lawsuit objecting to the pipeline. FERC released its draft environmental impact statement in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, concluding the environmental impact would not be significant. From the EIS:
The FERC staff concludes that approval of the project would result in some adverse environmental impacts; however, most of these impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of Transco’s proposed mitigation and the additional measures recommended in the draft EIS.
The Atlantic Sunrise is an expansion of the Transco system, which includes more than 10,000 miles of pipeline moving 10 percent of the nation’s natural gas across the country to utilities and power plants. Transco is operated by Williams, which submitted an application to FERC last year. The 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 project has been met with considerable public push-back, especially in Lancaster County.
A statement from Williams praised the draft environmental impact statement, which it said reflects its work collaborating with landowners.
“Since this proposal was first introduced in 2014, we have changed more than half of the original project route as direct result of feedback from landowners and other stakeholders. That feedback was very valuable to our process of proposing the best route possible. Even at this stage of the project, we continue to work to identify opportunities to even further reduce environmental impacts.”
The National Environmental Policy Act requires FERC to do the environmental impact statement. The 60-day public comment period closes on June 27, and FERC says it will issue the final EIS in October.
In addition to federal regulatory approval, interstate pipelines also need state environmental permits. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network has challenged state water quality permits in federal court, filing a lawsuit on Thursday in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals calling the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s issuance of water quality certificates for the Atlantic Sunrise project a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
Maya van Rossum, with the Delaware Riverkeeper, released a statement saying the project will impact more than 4,100 acres of land, and the proposed pipeline would cross 333 waterbodies, and 250 wetlands.
“PADEP is failing to fulfill its obligations to determine whether pipelines like the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline will harm our environment prior to deciding whether to give them the certification – this is not only a violation of the clear meaning and intent of the Clean Water Act and the Pennsylvania Code, but it is a fundamental violation of PADEP’s obligation to protect our environment and communities.”
Last month, New York State denied a crucial water-quality permit to builders of the controversial Constitution natural gas pipeline, halting its construction through about 100 miles of that state and another 25 miles of Pennsylvania. FERC had granted approval to the line. Neither the DEP nor Williams would comment on the lawsuit.