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Pipeline fight moves to federal agency

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A pipeline company is facing resistance over its latest plans for changing the direction of a gasoline pipeline that crosses Pennsylvania.

The company, Texas-based Buckeye Partners LP, asked federal energy regulators in late April for permission to move gas in two directions on a portion of the pipeline, which currently moves gas from east to west.

But Buckeye's request has met with opposition from the same companies that fought it at the state level, a group that includes Sheetz, Giant-Eagle and Philadelphia-area refiners. They operate as a coalition called Deny Buckeye.

Buckeye has been seeking since 2016 to reverse a western segment of the pipeline - known as the Laurel Pipe Line - between Pittsburgh and a point near Altoona. The company has said it wants the pipeline to be able to deliver low-cost Midwestern fuel to more areas of Pennsylvania.

But critics disputed the claim that Midwestern fuel would be cheaper and have argued that gas prices in Pittsburgh would rise instead.

A judge with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission sided with the opponents and recommended in March that the commission reject the reversal.

A few weeks later, Buckeye took its case to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. It wants approval to move fuel in both directions along the pipeline between Pittsburgh and Eldorado, the point near Altoona. 

In a statement in April, Robert A. Malecky, Buckeye’s president for domestic pipelines and terminals, said: "This approach provides shippers and suppliers with the choice to supply from either the west or east, while still increasing Pennsylvania consumers’ access to more affordable, lower cost North American-manufactured fuels, and we think it does so in a way that fully addresses the points raised in the recent PUC proceedings."  

Critics charge Buckeye with trying to circumvent the PUC, which has yet to issue a final decision on the reversal.

"This ill-conceived and unworkable plan was concocted by Buckeye only after their attempts to reverse the flow of the Laurel pipeline have stalled or failed," Deny Buckeye said in a statement accompanying its formal protest to FERC.

A FERC decision is not expected until late summer, Deny Buckeye added.

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