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National Fuel delays pipeline work for a year

PENDLETON – National Fuel has told federal regulators that it intends to delay in-ground work on its natural gas pipeline project in Niagara County for a year.

That means no excavation will be carried out until 2017 – if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approves the project at all – on an expansion of existing pipelines in Pendleton.

The project, called Northern Access 2016, is part of a plan to export to Canada the gas National Fuel obtains in Pennsylvania by use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

“They will not be breaking ground in 2016, despite the name of the project,” said Gary A. Abraham, the attorney hired by the Town of Pendleton to fight the project.

But Karen L. Merkel, National Fuel spokeswoman, said the company’s drilling subsidiary, Seneca Resources, is cutting back its drilling plans because of the falling price of gas. “The company is adjusting its pipeline infrastructure accordingly,” she said.

The state of the natural gas market is only one factor in the decision to “delay the in-service date,” as Maerkel put it. The others include needed time for “resolving any outstanding local zoning issues and property acquisition in advance of construction.”

Although the company has insisted the FERC, not local government, is in the saddle when it comes to deciding whether the project goes forward, National Fuel has applications pending before the Pendleton and Wheatfield planning boards for the two most controversial parts of the project.

In Pendleton, the company has a purchase option on 20 acres of land owned by the Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club on Killian Road, where it intends to build two giant compressor, totaling 22,000 horsepower, to push the gas through the pipeline.

In Wheatfield, the company has a site on Liberty Drive to erect a gas dehydration station to reduce the amount of water vapor in the gas to a level acceptable to Canadian regulators.

Opponents worry that the two above-ground installations will emit harmful chemicals and present an explosion hazard.

Also, Merkel said, National Fuel has found it needs extra time to order construction materials for its project.

She said National Fuel wants to complete site work this summer and fall, but there is no intention to cancel the project altogether. Even if gas prices don’t bounce back right away, “The project will continue on a delayed timeframe,” Markel said.