Schoharie County

NED suspends pipeline plan

One gas pipeline plan has fallen by the wayside, perhaps forever, and the fate of the other should b
Members of the Local 157 Laborers' Union clashed with anti-pipeline protesters at an open house for the Northeast Energy Direct Project in Schoharie in this Gazette photo from mid-December.
Members of the Local 157 Laborers' Union clashed with anti-pipeline protesters at an open house for the Northeast Energy Direct Project in Schoharie in this Gazette photo from mid-December.

One gas pipeline plan has fallen by the wayside, perhaps forever, and the fate of the other should be known by Wednesday, or even sooner.

Kinder Morgan this week announced that it has suspended development of its Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, which would bring natural gas from wells in Pennsylvania to consumers in the Northeast. For 86 percent of its length, including through Schoharie County, NED would have followed the path of the pipeline earlier proposed by Constitution Pipeline Co.

The Constitution plan, meanwhile, is significantly closer to becoming reality. It has already received the key approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but is awaiting water-quality permits. Constitution submitted its request for a Section 401 water-quality certificate to the state in August 2013, and the lengthy review by the state Department of Environmental Conservation is coming to a head. Under a federally imposed deadline, the DEC must approve or reject the request by April 27. If DEC does not issue a decision, the certificate is granted by default.

If DEC denies the permit, Constitution will look at the reasons for denial and consider an appeal in federal court, according to spokesman Christopher Stockton. If DEC approves the permit, or if Constitution successfully challenges a denial in court, the company next will seek a Section 404 certificate from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Once that is approved, FERC can grant the “notice to process” — the final green light to build the 125-mile pipeline from northeast Pennsylvania to the town of Wright in Schoharie County.

“It’s a very critical time for the project,” Stockton said.

NED may not be dead

For that reason, the decision to suspend NED is not the key victory, and in fact may not even be a victory, said Anne Marie Garti of Stop The Pipeline, one of the grass-roots groups that has been fighting the pipeline proposals.

“It’s great news,” she said today, but added: “It’s not a permanent decision. It could revive if the market changes.”

Like so many people on both sides of the issue, she is now waiting for the state ruling on Constitution, because that is the major hurdle facing the project.

“We’re very close to a decision,” Garti said. “We don’t know when or how the DEC will announce it.”

A DEC spokesperson did not return a call today seeking comment for this story.

Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, whose district would be host to the pipelines, said he had no insight to the DEC decision on Constitution or its timing.

But he wasn’t sorry to see NED shelved.

“I’m relieved,” he said. “I had opposed that from its very announcement.

“One, I didn’t agree with the need for a second pipeline,” he said. Second, he said, NED merely proposed to piggyback on the work done by Constitution, and provide no benefit to local communities along the way.

Lopez’s qualified support for Constitution was with the request that the pipeline follow public rights of way wherever possible, rather than tearing up private property, and include connections to provide gas service for communities along the route of the pipeline. In fact, the promise of gas service was part of an incentive package negotiated to retain a major employer in Sidney, which was formerly part of his Assembly district.

Amphenol Aerospace will be one of several intended recipients of gas service if Constitution is built, Stockton said.

Schoharie town Supervisor Chris Tague said many of his constituents “breathed a sigh of relief” over NED being shelved.

“I think that the main issue for most of our folks and myself was the placement of the [compressor] stations,” he said, referring to the facilities along the pipeline that some worry will be noisy or affect groundwater quality, and in the case of the NED plan, were close to residences.

As for Constitution, he considers the pipeline a done deal — the process was essentially concluded before he was first elected in November — and he now wants to be sure it is isn’t a problem for the town.

“My whole issue with the pipeline is the aftermath — after the pipeline is put in, what benefit does it have to my community?” Tague said.

Local gas service, which is not proposed in Schoharie County at this point, would be nice, Tague said, but more important for him are the benefits the pipeline operator offers to the community.

“A lot of the decision is made by the federal government,” he said. “The localities don’t have much of a leg to stand on, except we do have an ability to negotiate on those benefits.”

He wants local personnel equipped and trained to detect and deal with pipeline emergencies, and have an open line of communication with the pipeline operator.

Stockton said that would happen.

“As an operational best practice, we do provide training to and work very closely with local emergency response organizations in the communities where we operate,” he said, adding that Constitution has distributed about $2 million to community organizations in the last several years, much of it to emergency responders.

He also noted that Constitution will pay more than $13 million a year in property taxes to communities along the pipeline route.

Rapid process

Stockton said the pipeline will take about a year to build once it is green-lighted.

To protect nesting birds and hanging bats, Constitution can’t cut down trees from April 1 to Oct. 1. The company got approval to clear trees along the route this past winter in Pennsylvania — which accounts for only 25 miles of the 125-mile pipeline — but not in New York. Constitution wrapped up tree-cutting in Pennsylvania before March 31 but will be able to do only stream-crossing and other limited prep work in New York until Oct. 1.

When construction starts in earnest, Constitution will have 2,300 workers spread out in five groups the length of the pipeline working toward each other, with efficiency, speed and safety the orders of the day.

“It’s very much like an assembly line,” Stockton said.

The Constitution Pipeline has been controversial since its proposal in early 2012, with opponents of hydrofracking gas drilling and fans of quiet rural life lining up against labor unions and economic development officials. Even as Stockton spoke today, hundreds of elected officials, business owners and union leaders were holding a rally in Binghamton in support of the pipeline plan. Catskill Mountainkeeper was rallying its supporters to write Gov. Andrew Cuomo opposing Constitution. And U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout earlier in the day issued statements applauding the demise of NED.

Constitution began as a $750 million project and is now expected to cost $875 million, Stockton said, due to rerouting, mitigation measures and changes in methodology and technique required during the approval process.

He said Constitution is going forward despite the factors that have sidelined NED — lower gas prices, lack of contracts and incomplete regulatory changes in New England states.

“The projects were very different,” Stockton said. Constitution already has the crucial FERC approval for its pipeline, and has secured contracts for sale of 100 percent of the gas it will ship, he said.

That is, providing the DEC signs off.

“We’re anxious to get that permit,” Stockton said.

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