A 124-mile natural gas transmission pipeline proposed from Pennsylvania to New York has received its final environmental impact statement from federal regulators, finding that while the project would cause some adverse environmental impacts but that mitigation would reduce them to less-than-significant levels.
The proposed Constitution Pipeline is designed connect natural gas supplies in northern Pennsylvania with major northeastern markets. Proposed by Constitution Pipeline Company, LLC, a group whose investors include Williams, Cabot Oil & Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas, and WGL Holdings, the 30-inch underground pipeline would have a design capacity of 650,000 dekatherms of natural gas per day. Constitution has pitched the project as a response to natural gas
market demands in the New York and the New England areas, and interest from natural gas shippers that
require transportation capacity from Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania to the existing Tennessee Gas
Pipeline Company LLC (TGP) and Iroquois systems in Schoharie County, New York.
Developing an interstate natural gas pipeline requires a series of federal, state, and local approvals. Under the federal Natural Gas Act, interstate pipelines must obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission prior to construction. Constitution started the pre-filing process in April 2012, and filed its certificate application under Section 7(c) of the Natural Gas Act with the FERC on June 13, 2013.
Under the National Environmental Policy Act, federal agencies must analyze and
document the environmental effects of proposed federal actions such as issuing a certificate of public convenience and necessity for an interstate pipeline. For the Constitution Pipeline and its associated Wright Interconnect compressor transfer station, FERC staff evaluated the projects' impacts on natural resources including geology, soils, groundwater, surface water, wetlands, vegetation, wildlife, fisheries, special status species, land use, visual resources, socioeconomics, cultural resources, air quality, noise, and safety. Staff considered the projects' cumulative impacts along with other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable actions in the projects’ area. Staff also evaluated over 400 alternatives to the projects, including the "no-action" alternative, system alternatives, major and minor route alternatives, and minor route variations. In a collaborative effort, FERC staff also collected input from cooperating agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration, and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.
FERC staff issued their Final Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for the Constitution Pipeline and Wright Interconnect projects on October 24, 2014. In that document, staff concluded that construction and operation of the Constitution Pipeline and the associated Wright Interconnect would result in some adverse environmental impacts, but these impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of mitigation measures proposed by the company and additional measures proposed by FERC. These mitigation measures include implementing plans for upland erosion control, revegetation, and maintenance plan, protecting wetlands and waterbodies, spill plans for oil and hazardous materials, an organic farm protection plan, and a karst mitigation plan. FERC staff also proposed an environmental inspection and mitigation monitoring program to ensure compliance with all mitigation measures that become conditions of the FERC authorizations and other approvals.
For the Constitution Pipeline project, the EIS represents a relatively favorable recommendation by FERC staff to the Commissioners. The ultimate decision whether FERC will issue the project a certificate rests solely with the Commissioners themselves, but regulators typically rely heavily on their technical staff's evaluation of environmental impacts. Likewise, while FERC's final EIS is not necessarily binding on cooperating agencies, they may adopt it if it satisfies their own statutory mandates for environmental reviews.
While the applicants had initially proposed to start construction in 2014, FERC staff acknowledged that "the proposed dates for the start of construction are no longer feasible." Constitution now proposes to start construction in February of 2015 and continue through
the end of 2015, pending receipt of all applicable federal authorizations. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may rule on the projects' certificate applications as early as late November this year.