A proposed National Fuel Gas Co. project that would upgrade its Wales transfer station has received a positive assessment from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's staff.
The Amherst-based energy company's Northern Access project would use current pipelines to increase the volume of Pennsylvania-produced natural gas transported from the Marcellus Shale region to the TransCanada Pipeline.
The commission conducted an environmental assessment of the Northern Access project, as well as a related project by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. in the Town of Lockport. Approval of the two projects, "with appropriate mitigating measures, would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment," the commission staff said.
The commission must decide whether to issue a "certificate of public convenience and necessity" for projects. It considers the environmental assessment an "integral" part of that decision.
"We believe, and are hopeful, that [the commission] will stay with its end-of-year timeline for a decision on this project," said Karen Merkel, a National Fuel spokeswoman. The company is reviewing the staff's mitigation recommendations, she said.
National Fuel's planned improvements for the Northern Access project include a new, 4,470-horsepower compressor station at 5241 Reiter Road in Wales, near the town border with Aurora. The company aims to put its upgraded facilities into service in November 2012.
Public comments have questioned the Wales compressor station's impact on soil and water quality, recreational activities, air quality, noise, safety and property values. Some critics suggested moving the project to another location.
The commission said construction and operation of the new and modified compressor stations by National Fuel in Wales and Tennessee Gas in the Town of Lockport would affect noise levels in the project areas. But staff members recommended a number of noise-abatement steps, along with noise surveys to monitor the results.
On its website, National Fuel said the Wales compressor buildings "will be highly insulated to contain the engine noise, and the piping will be buried to a greater extent to further dissipate sound."
The Town of Wales is considering National Fuel's request for a special-use permit. The Concerned Neighbors Network has submitted a petition with more than 400 signatures, calling for moving the compressor to a different location.
Commission staff members analyzed the alternative of expanding the Concord compression station, which would require replacing about 15 miles of pipeline.
Staff members said the Concord option would affect more landowners and cause "more construction disturbance" than the Wales plan, which the report called "environmentally preferable."
Wales Supervisor Rickey Venditti said the town is awaiting feedback from various boards about the special-use permit request and plans to schedule a public hearing. The town also has asked its attorney to look into whether National Fuel still would need a town permit if the federal commission grants approval.
The commission will accept public comments until Sept. 16. Comments can be emailed to www.ferc.gov, or mailed to Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First St. NE, Room 1A, Washington, D.C. 20426.
The commission will vote on the projects after the public comment period closes, but a no specific date has been announced.