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Oct 27, 2020

Citing litigation, National Fuel seeks another Northern Access pipeline delay

National Fuel said in a federal filing Friday that it needs another extension of the deadline to complete its natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to the Niagara River.

The company’s letter said it is still committed to the project, but it asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to move the completion target for the project back to Dec. 1, 2024, because of ongoing litigation.

National Fuel has won every lawsuit filed over the 97-mile pipeline it proposes to build through Allegany, Cattaraugus and Erie counties, with two miles of additional work on its existing pipeline system in Niagara County.

But the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City has yet to rule on a suit over FERC’s refusal to allow the state Department of Environmental Conservation to block the project by denying National Fuel a water quality certification, or WQC, that would allow the pipeline to cross 192 streams in Western New York.

The company’s letter to FERC says it has no way of knowing when that litigation will be settled, noting that the losing side likely will try to appeal the Second Circuit’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Although the date for a decision from the Second Circuit remains uncertain, Applicants expect a minimum of twelve months – but likely more – to resolve the pending legal action related to the WQC, and any related appeals,” said the letter from Sarah J. Mugel, vice president and general counsel for National Fuel.

The project, when originally revealed in 2013, was called Northern Access 2016, after the year it was supposed to have been completed. That didn’t happen.

In February 2017, FERC approved the project and gave National Fuel two years to complete it. That didn’t happen, either, so FERC gave National Fuel an extension to February 2022. National Fuel told FERC in Friday’s letter that it can’t meet the 2022 deadline “as a result of ongoing legal and regulatory delays.”

Because of those delays, the company said it won’t be able to file a notice that the work will proceed until early 2022, after which it must order the large-diameter pipe and other materials it needs. That means construction probably wouldn’t start until mid-2023, Mugel wrote.

The pipeline is meant to carry fracked gas from McKean County, Pa., to a Canadian pipeline under the Niagara River at Chippawa, Ont. Pennsylvania officials have granted National Fuel all the permits it needs for pipeline work in that state.

Published by The Buffalo News

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