Williams Companies proposed building a new natural gas pipeline running 37 miles under the water through Raritan Bay in order to bring gas from Pennsylvania natural gas fields to existing pipes in New York. The company touted the project as part of its efforts to expand and upgrade the existing energy infrastructure in the Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey area. The company noted that many in the region have been switching from oil heat to natural gas heat, which does decrease emissions in the area. It was felt that the new pipeline would be needed to ensure consistent delivery of natural gas to both existing customers as well as the expansion projects in the region. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a certificate of public convenience and necessity to authorize the project at the beginning of May.
As part of the approval process for building the pipeline, the company filed Section 401 water quality certification application with both the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and NY Department of Environmental Conservation. Last week, the NYSDEC denied the water quality certification application without prejudice, meaning that the company could file a new application addressing the reasons the agency provided for its denial. This was the second denial after a previous application filed in 2017. The NYSDEC noted that it received thousands of comments to the application, many of which expressed concerns about water quality impacts from the project as well as to the possible effects to shellfish beds in the area. The denial was based on the company’s inability to prove that the project would comply with all water quality standards. In particular, the agency was concerned about mercury and copper levels caused by disturbing the sediment and the fact that the company itself modeled excessive levels of both substances and did not have adequate mitigation plans to protect shellfish and other life. The NYSDEC noted that the company could re-file the application; however, in order to have the application granted, the company must provide reasonable assurances that construction would meet all water quality standards, particularly mercury and copper. Furthermore, the construction schedule must recognize specific time periods that take into account threatened and endangered species, including the Atlantic Sturgeon. Any application must also include mitigation plans to take into account the shellfish beds in the area. The company does have the right to an adjudicatory hearing, which must be requested within 30 days of the denial.
The company did respond after the denial. “The Department of Environmental Conservation raised a discrete technical issue with our application for water quality certification. Our team will be evaluating the issue and resubmitting the application quickly. We are confident that we can be responsive to this technical concern, meet our customer’s in-service date and avoid a moratorium that would have a devastating impact on the regional economy and environment.”
Without pipeline approval, there could be a moratorium on new gas installations in the region. National Grid has threatened to do so and reports are that it has halted accepting new applications for hookups. Con Edison has already refused to provide new gas hookups due to supply issues.