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Feds push PennEast, Atlantic Sunrise pipeline deadlines into 2017Approval timelimes are months longer than developers wanted

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A federal review of the proposed PennEast and Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipelines could take several months longer than the developers had requested, pushing that stage of both projects into early 2017.

Atlantic Sunrise timetable

Atlantic Sunrise, a project of Oklahoma-based Williams Partners LP, would traverse the state from Susquehanna County to link up with the existing Transco Pipeline in Lancaster County, crossing through Schuylkill and Lebanon counties on its route.

Williams, which wanted to go online by July 1, 2017, had sought authorization by April 29. Its in-service target is now the second half of 2017.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's schedule says the agency will issue notice of the final environmental impact study by Oct. 21, with a final decision not due until Jan. 19, 2017.

PennEast timetable

A Berks County-based joint venture led by UGI Energy Services, a subsidiary of Montgomery County-based UGI Corp., is one of the member companies behind PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC, which is looking to build the $1.2 billion line that will run 114 miles from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania to central New Jersey.

PennEast had asked the FERC to issue a final decision by August of this year. Documents released by FERC show a final Environmental Impact Statement will be completed by December, with a final decision deadline of March 16, 2017.

"The Notice of Schedule should be viewed as the key milestone it is for the development of the PennEast Pipeline Project," said spokeswoman Patricia Kornick.

"It enables PennEast to take the next steps with its plans to build the PennEast Pipeline Project to alleviate existing system constraints, increase reliability and deliver reduced costs to local natural gas and electric consumers," she added.

PennEast is "evaluating how the Notice of Schedule might affect its initial proposed timeline and has not revised its current November 2017 in-service date," Kornick said.

Critics of the project, meanwhile, hailed the news for their own reasons.

"Clearly, PennEast's lack of responsiveness to FERC's request for critical information has caused the project to be significantly delayed," said Tom Gilbert, campaign director, ReThink Energy NJ and New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

Gilbert's group argues that the pipeline would threaten open space and streams which provide drinking water. They contend PennEast's latest submission, on March 25, was filed more than a month late and was "missing answers to questions and important details" which had been requested by FERC.

"We are renewing our call to FERC to protect the integrity of its review process and the public interest by not allowing this incomplete and grossly inaccurate application to proceed," Gilbert said.

Said PennEast's Kornick:

"Whether it be the construction of a highway, bridge or underground pipeline, many variables are factored into proposed timelines of most major infrastructure projects, including the PennEast Pipeline Project.

"PennEast looks forward to continuing through the process, which upon completion, will result in a state-of-the-art pipeline that will deliver numerous long-term benefits to energy consumers throughout the region," she added.

The line also has come under fire from homeowners groups in New Jersey concerned about potential use of eminent domain along the route.

Conversely, PennEast has pointed out that business and industry groups in both states have thrown their weight behind the pipeline, saying it will create jobs and help lower energy costs in the region.

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Roger DuPuis

Roger DuPuis

Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at rdupuis@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @rogerdupuis2.

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