Gas pipe wait may end

The Daily Item, Sunbury | February 5, 2016 By: Eric Scicchitano

SUNBURY — A federal agency’s decision on the proposed 34-mile natural gas pipeline that would pull Marcellus Shale gas into the Susquehanna Valley to fuel a new power plant remains pending, but the company that would build it is optimistic the wait is almost over.

“Basically any day now we expect a certification order from FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission),” said Anthony Cox, of UGI Sunbury, a subsidiary of UGI Natural Gas.

There is no time line for a decision, according to Mary O’Driscoll, FERC medial relations director.

If certification is approved, Cox says the gas company must file an implementation plan before a final decision is made allowing it to proceed with construction on the $160-million gas line that travels through five counties, beginning in Lycoming County.

Cox expects construction to begin in March with tree clearings and be completed by November. It is scheduled to go in service in February 2017.

The 20-inch diameter pipeline ends at the $710 million Hummel Station plant, which under construction in Shamokin Dam, Snyder County.

The plant is a project of Panda Power Funds, Texas. It’s expected to produce 1,124 megawatts to power 1 million homes, including in New York and Philadelphia, and is to be operating by the close of 2017. It will be built on 20 acres along the Susquehanna River, site of the former coal-fired Sunbury Generation plant. There are plans in the works to develop surrounding acreage into an industrial park.

The project has had limited opposition. David and Annette Gray, who own a farm in Monroe Township, filed a motion to intervene to prevent the pipeline from crossing their land. They fear the project will fragment their farm and prevent construction of a chicken house and a hog house necessary for its viability. A ruling on the motion hasn’t been issued, although the Grays note themselves the filing was late since the August deadline passed as they continued negotiations with UGI Sunbury.

The Environmental Protection Agency raised questions in a Jan. 29 filing about the “long-term” environmental effects of both projects. It recommends the environmental assessment be revisited to investigate emissions from the power plant and the potential impact pipeline construction will have on soil, topography and geology.

In an environmental assessment, FERC staff ruled the gas line project will have no significant effect on quality of life in the Valley. Public comment on the project’s environmental assessment closed Jan. 27. FERC will respond to comments in its order.

Cox says UGI Sunbury won’t offer a response to the EPA. He calls the agency’s conclusions a broad take, noting they came after deadline, and says he doesn’t expect it will have any impact on FERC’s decision.

Construction requires 100 feet of temporary right-of-way and 50 permanent feet. Property owners can’t build or plant anything in the right-of-way. Peak workforce is estimated at 350 employees. Half are expected to be hired locally.