SALEM, Ohio — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will give the green light to the Independence Pipeline project, but only if the pipeline companies can show actual need for the natural gas in the Northeast and then meet stringent new environmental demands.
According to FERC, which issued an interim order on the project certification at its Dec. 15 board meeting, neither Independence Pipeline Company nor ANR Pipeline Company has adequately proven there is market demand for the gas.
The commission board members said they will approve the pipeline project, but only after both companies get contracts for 70 percent of total capacity — with 35 percent from non-affiliates. There is no time frame specified for the stipulation.
If the companies meet that threshold, FERC is prepared to approve the projects.
However, the commission also ordered the most extensive environmental requirements ever imposed on a pipeline project, in the event that it moves forward. These requirements, FERC said, were triggered by the “unprecedented public involvement in and opposition to the projects.” The proposal has roused opposition from affected landowners along the pipeline path, which stretches from Defiance, Ohio, across northern Ohio and western Pennsylvania to Leidy, Pa. (Clinton County).
“That this case was difficult is no secret,” said FERC Chairman James J. Hoecker.
The action brought a quick “no comment” from the Interstate Natural Gas Association and a brief prepared statement from Independence Pipeline saying it is still committed to the project.
“It’s not a good idea to even attempt a comment before we have a chance to review the order,” said Joe Martucci, ANR Pipeline Company manager of corporate communications.
Opponents expressed pleasure at the decision but, “we would have been happier if FERC would’ve denied the entire application,” said Gordon R. Bury, president of the Ohio-Pa. Landowners Association (OPLA). Bury also said he was anxious to examine the actual order, which FERC said runs more than 100 pages.
West Central Pa. Landowners Association member Keith Beachem of Portersville, Pa., is optimistic the pipeline will not be built, based on FERC’s order.
“This pipeline is definitely on hold,” Beachem said. “I look for it to die a natural death.”
FERC will impose the following environmental requirements if certification is granted:
— Each of the three applicants must post a $1 million restoration bond in case the money is needed to restore sites along the pipeline;
— The applicants must also create a five-year post-construction monitoring program to measure crop productivity and revegetation;
— The project sponsors must hire a third-party contractor, reporting directly to FERC, to monitor the project’s compliance with the required environmental mitigation conditions;
— The applicants can’t begin construction on any part of the project until they’ve been given access to properties not previously surveyed, environmental surveys are completed and all consultations with environmental resource agencies are finalized.
This is the first time FERC has denied permission for construction to proceed on a piecemeal basis.
— Applicants must also create an environmental complaint resolution procedure, including distribution of complaint hotline phone numbers and FERC’s enforcement hotline numbers to landowners along the pipeline path.
Independence Pipeline Company is a partnership by The Coastal Corporation’s ANR Pipeline Company, Williams’ Transco pipeline, and National Fuel Gas Company. The proposed $677.9 million pipeline will stretch 400 miles from ANR’s existing compressor station in Defiance to Transco-National Fuel facilities in Leidy.