PENDLETON – Federal officials are expected to issue an environmental assessment this week on National Fuel’s controversial natural gas pipeline extension project in Western New York.
In Pendleton, where the controversy has been white-hot at times, the company is seeking to construct two powerful compressors totaling more than 22,000 horsepower to push gas through the new pipes.
The project, called Northern Access 2016, is designed to increase National Fuel’s local pipeline capacity in order to move gas from the hydrofracking fields of northern Pennsylvania to Canada for export. The company wanted to connect with the TransCanada pipeline under the Niagara River at Chippawa, Ont.
The local aspects of the project also included some new underground pipe in Pendleton and a gas dewatering station on Liberty Drive in Wheatfield, which would remove water that comes out of the ground with the gas. Canadian regulations do not allow the import of gas that’s as “wet” as U.S. rules permit.
National Fuel spokeswoman Karen L. Merkel said the company’s target pipeline activation date is Nov. 1, 2017.
The proposed site for the compressor project is 20 acres of open land owned by the Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club on western Pendleton’s Killian Road. National Fuel purchased an option on the land from the club, but has yet to take ownership of the property.
A group of local residents known as the Pendleton Action Team angrily opposed the compressor project because of the possibility of a gas explosion or the emission of poisonous chemicals, such as benzene, that are part of natural gas when it emerges from the ground.
Some Wheatfield residents oppose the dewatering station for similar reasons. But those in Pendleton have taken more direct action, hiring environmental attorney Gary A. Abraham of Allegany to fight the project before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
FERC is scheduled to issue an environmental assessment Wednesday on the project. In a final effort to influence the ruling, Abraham sent the commission an 11-page letter on July 14.
It’s the seventh set of comments filed with FERC against the project in the past year. Previous sets of comments were made by Abraham, former Supervisor James A. Riester or current supervisor Joel M. Maerten.
The new letter says National Fuel didn’t consider alternate routes for the pipeline expansion because it did not formally respond to a suggestion that the pipeline should connect with an existing Tennessee Gas Pipeline compression station near Junction Road in Cambria. However, National Fuel officials have said in the past that the cost of digging a longer route would be excessive.
National Fuel did submit a site plan for Killian Road compressors to the Pendleton Planning Board, which has not acted on it.
The company has not sought a building permit, Abraham said.
He said compressors are not allowed in a light industrial zone under Pendleton’s zoning code.
The code does allow “essential services” in that zone, but Abraham wrote that a pipeline simply carrying gas through the town en route to Canada doesn’t provide any essential services to Pendleton, and predicted that a New York court, based on past precedents, would uphold a Pendleton ruling against the project on that basis.
Abraham also pointed to National Fuel’s recent announcement that it intends to drill 75 new gas wells located within 5 to 10 miles of the beginning of the Northern Access pipeline in Pennsylvania. He said that could increase the amount of greenhouse gases being discharged.
“The town raises this issue because it does not want to host a facility with potentially significant incremental adverse effects on climate change any more than it wants its residents to be exposed to localized non-methane air quality impacts of natural gas,” the attorney wrote.
Ronald C. Kraemer, president of National Fuel’s Empire Pipeline, told FERC that he doesn’t think environmental impacts resulting from increased gas production should be considered in analyzing the environmental impact of a pipeline.
Abraham also objected to National Fuel’s opinion on how noisy the compressor would be, saying noise thresholds the company is using were designed for urban or suburban areas, not the rural location of Killian Road.
Some commenters on the FERC website have alleged that the company’s real intention in exporting gas is to send it not to Canada but to more lucrative overseas markets in places such as Asia.
“The project is designed to move economical and abundant supplies of natural gas into the North American pipeline grid, which serves communities across the grid ranging from northeast U.S. markets as well as Canada,” Merkel, of National Fuel, said. “Any reference to the Asian market has no basis in fact and without any evidence in the project’s lengthy public record.”