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Williams-TRANSCO Gets Two More Years To Win Approvals For NESE Project And Gas Compressor Station

Protestors gather outside the Senior/Community Center in 2018. (File photo.)

Williams-Transco on May 20 won federal approval of its request for a two-year extension to bring to fruition the company’s planned Northeast Services Enhancement Project, which includes a gas compressor station in Franklin.

Transco on March 19 applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a two-year extension on FERC’s approval of the $1 billion project, which expired on May 3. The company at the time also stated its intent to re-file permit applications with the state Department of Environmental Protection, applications which were denied as “moot” by the DEP in 2020, following their denial by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The project involves laying new natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, whose residents would benefit from the enhanced capacity.

The project also entails building a 32,000-horsepower natural-gas powered twin turbine compressor station – which would raise the gas pressure in pipelines so the gas can make it to its final destination – on a 52-acre tract in Little Rocky Hill, near Route 518.

In asking for the extension, Transco argued that all of the criteria in effect when FERC approved the concept remains so, and that once the COVID-19 pandemic – which Transco blames for a perceived reduced need on the part of New York regulators for the extra capacity the project would provide – has subsided, the need for the NESE enhancements would once again be evident.

In granting the request, the FERC Commissioners said they considered comments from the more than 1,400 individuals and organizations opposing the extension, as well as the two supportive comments that were filed.

Objectors argued that Transco didn’t give a good reason for the extension, there’s no longer a demand for the natural gas that would be transported to New York through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the environmental analyses are “stale,” and the project no longer meets FERC’s standards.

But the Commissioners rejected those arguments, saying the objectors did not provide enough evidence to back up their claims.

“We are satisfied that Transco has made good faith efforts to meet the deadline and that good cause exists to grant the requested extension,” the Commissioners wrote in their decision.

The Commissioners also did not agree with opponents’ arguments that the project is not needed, saying that agreements Transco made with delivery companies remain in effect.

“Extending the deadline to construct the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project and place it into service within four years of the date of the Certificate Order will not undermine the Commission’s findings in the Certificate Order that the project is required by the public convenience and necessity,” the Commissioners wrote.  “The Commission has authorized projects and granted extensions setting the in-service deadline of four, five, or six years without expressing concerns about the certificate order’s findings becoming stale.”

The Commissioners also negated opponents’ arguments that the environmental analyses were old and needed to be redone.

“(T)he commenters have not identified any specific change of fact or law that would require the Commission to reconsider our prior findings that the project, as conditioned, is an environmentally acceptable action,” the Commissioners wrote. “Therefore, we do not find it necessary to prepare a supplemental environmental analysis.”

“Moreover, Commission staff will review compliance with all environmental conditions before Transco will receive any authorization to proceed with construction,” the Commissioners wrote.

FERC’s decision was blasted by local activists who have fought the project for more than two years.

“I am furious that even with the new Biden Administration, FERC is continuing business as usual, being a rubber stamp for the fossil fuel industry,” Ed Potosnak, executive director of the Franklin-based New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. “I am deeply disappointed that FERC didn’t respect New Jersey and New York’s rejections of William Transco’s NESE methane pipeline project.”

“NESE isn’t needed, New York and New Jersey don’t want it, and it poses a threat to clean water, wildlife, and the safety and health of New Jersey communities,” Potosnak said. “NESE is a prime example of a ‘zombie pipeline’ – projects that continue to try to be built even after it’s determined they don’t meet New Jersey’s legal requirements to protect our drinking water and environment. History seems to be repeating itself.”

Mayor Phil Kramer said he “expected better out of the Biden Administration,” and that he had lost respect for Williams-Transco.

“This application for an extension cited the pandemic as the reason, and the pandemic clearly had nothing to do with anything to do with them being denied,” he said. “I really lost respect for them in putting in an application in that manner.”

Township Councilman Ted Chase, the Council’s environmental conscience, said he was not surprised by FERC’s decision.

“I’m not surprised at the extension, it would be logical for FERC to say, we approved this, why shouldn’t we let them keep trying?” Chase said in an email. “What happens now depends most of all on NY holding firm in its denial.  I always predicted that if Transco was denied, it would be by NY.”

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