NYDEC hearings on Northern Access Pipeline

New York Department of Environmental Conservation Administrative Law Judge Molly McBride (left) at the first of three public hearings for the National Fuel Northern Access Pipeline at St. Bonaventure University’s Doyle Hall in February 2017. The DEC issued a 20-page letter to National Fuel Gas last week, saying the pipeline project would damage too many streams to meet state water quality standards by churning up sediment.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation doubled down last week on its opposition of the proposed 97-mile Northern Access Pipeline that would carry Pennsylvania shale gas north to interstate pipelines in Erie County and to Canada.

The DEC issued a 20-page letter to National Fuel Gas, saying the project would damage too many streams to meet state water quality standards by churning up sediment.

National Fuel Gas continues to disregard the DEC finding that it could not grant a water quality certificate due to the crossing of 192 state-regulated streams and 73 acres of federally-regulated wetlands.

“We believe that Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) order finding that the New York DEC waived its authority to act on our certification application take precedence and render DEC’s new denial ineffective and void,” said Karen Merkel of the National Fuel Gas communications department.

“Once DEC’s deadline to act passed, its subsequent actions (such as this new denial) are of no consequence,” Merkel said in a statement. “We are considering our legal options and continue to work to finalize the remaining federal authorizations to move this project forward.”

National Fuel Gas president and CEO David Bauer told investors last week, “While we had positive rulings in the courts, we’re in a position where we could apply for a notice to proceed in the near future. That said, we’re thinking this is really a longer-term project likely in the 2022 to 2023 timeframe.”

The National Fuel Gas Supply Corporation and Empire Pipeline Inc. “would impact streams home to a number of significant animal species including trout (both brown and rainbow) and Eastern hellbender, a state-listed species of concern,” the DEC said in a letter to NFG.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled last year that the DEC failed to act in a timely manner on the NFG Water Quality Certificate application. National Fuel Gas officials say that cleared the way for the pipeline’s construction.

“If allowed to proceed, the project would materially interfere with or jeopardize the biological integrity and best usage of affected water bodies and wetlands,” the DEC said in its letter to National Fuel Gas.

Federal regulators claim the DEC’s missed deadline in ruling on the NFG pipeline application has invalidated any future DEC actions.

In April, the FERC declined to give DEC an opportunity for a second hearing before the commission. DEC officials appealed that ruling to the Second Circuit Federal Court in June.

The pipeline route starts in McKean County and crosses the Allegheny River near Ceres in Allegany County. It generally follows existing rights of way.

The pipeline route would cross into Cattaraugus County in Portville, then head north to Hinsdale, Ischua, Franklinville, Machias and Yorkshire before crossing Cattaraugus Creek into the town of Sardinia in Erie County.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@olean

timesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)