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FERC Shakeup Threatens Pipeline Schedules

Thursday, February 2, 2017

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The resignation of a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, effective Friday (Feb. 3), has left natural gas pipeline project teams scrambling for approvals before what could be a period of delays.

On Jan. 26, President Donald Trump named commissioner Cheryl LaFleur acting chair of FERC, a body that is meant to have five members, but currently has only three. Shortly after that announcement, FERC commissioner Norman Bay, former chair of the commission, announced he would resign, effective Feb. 3.

Cheryl LaFleur and Norman Bay

Cheryl LaFleur (left) was named acting chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Jan. 26; shortly after, commissioner Norman Bay announced his resignation, which will lead to a lack of quorum.

The resignation brings the number of commissioners to just two, which is short of a quorum. Companies with new natural gas pipelines awaiting FERC approval have reportedly been lobbying for fast-track decisions before Friday, in case the shorthanded commission results in long-term delays to new projects.

Projects Awaiting Approval

Projects currently awaiting FERC decisions include the Atlantic Sunrise Project, Nexus Gas Transmission project and Northern Access 2016.

The Atlantic Sunrise expansion would add 183 miles of greenfield pipeline in eastern and central Pennsylvania, extending the already-existing Transco Pipeline, which stretches from Georgia to Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The pipeline is operated by Williams.

Atlantic Sunrise map

The Atlantic Sunrise expansion would add 183 miles of greenfield pipeline in eastern and central Pennsylvania (shown in red), extending the already-existing Transco Pipeline (bright blue).

The Nexus Gas Transmission project, proposed by Spectra Energy, would build a 255-mile natural gas pipeline to move 1.5 billion cubic feet per day from eastern Ohio to Michigan.

Northern Access would add a number of pipelines and compressor stations in northwest Pennsylvania and southeast New York state. That project, proposed by National Fuel Gas Supply Corporation and Empire Pipeline, is scheduled for construction starting in April 2017, to go into service in March 2018, pending approvals.

Industry Request

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America has asked FERC to move quickly before Bay’s resignation takes effect, and to delegate where possible to staff, so that the lack of quorum won’t leave too many projects hanging in the balance for too long.

“We encourage the commission to act on all matters that are ripe for decision prior to Commissioner Bay’s departure, and especially pending applications for authority to construct needed interstate natural gas pipelines,” INGAA president and CEO Don Santa said in a statement.

“Given President Trump’s focus on infrastructure and domestic energy resources,” Santa added, “we urge him to nominate candidates to fill the commission’s three existing vacancies as soon as possible. We, likewise, urge the Senate to act expeditiously on those nominations.”

FERC Background

FERC is an independent body within the Department of Energy; it was established in 1935 as a five-member body, nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, for the regulation of interstate electricity and hydropower.

The commission was granted power over interstate natural gas trade in 1938, and its powers related to natural gas were expanded in the 1970s.


Tagged categories: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); Government; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; President Trump; Program/Project Management; Regulations

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