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Photo by Doug Kerr from Albany, New York, United States CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia

Environmentalists raise concerns about gas line under French Creek

Don Hopey | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A proposed Marcellus Shale gas pipeline project under French Creek, just across the Pennsylvania border in southwestern New York, puts at risk endangered freshwater mussels in one of the nation’s most ecologically diverse waterways, according to the Allegheny Defense Project.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is reviewing a February proposal by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. to build a 3.1 mile, 30-inch pipeline loop in Chautauqua County, N.Y., including a section that would be bored under the headwaters of the stream that flows south into Pennsylvania.

The environmental organization said the federal agency’s environmental assessment of the project fails to address the risk to the creek’s five endangered species of freshwater mussels or the cumulative impact of multiple pipeline projects in the region.

“FERC assumes that because the company is boring the pipeline under the stream there are no impacts, but that doesn’t take into account the risks that its construction could go wrong or that it could rupture under the creek,” said Ryan Talbott, an Allegheny Defense coordinator.

“And these pipeline projects are radiating out of Pennsylvania like spokes on a wheel into new England, Canada and the Gulf [of Mexico] states, but FERC doesn’t want to look at the cumulative impacts of all of these projects.”

A significant leak in the pipeline under the creek could cause methane to displace oxygen in the water and put species dependent on oxygen at risk.

Richard Wheatley, a spokesman for Kinder Morgan, the Houston-based energy company that bought Tennessee Pipeline in 2012, said the company’s plans to bore under the creek will minimize impact to the creek and adjacent wetlands.

The pipeline loop expansion will facilitate transportation of additional Marcellus Shale gas to northern New York and Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s connection with Trans Canada Pipeline near Niagara, New York.

The regulatory commission is scheduled to make a final decision on the pipeline by mid-October. Subject to that decision and other regulatory approvals, Tennessee Pipeline plans to begin construction on the $27.5 million project.

The work will include upgrades and expansions of two compressor stations, one in New York and one in Mercer County, in April 2015, and putting the pipeline in service by November that year.

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This week, Gov. Tom Corbett also expressed concern about the placement and cumulative environmental impact of multiple pipeline projects involving another pipeline proposal, Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co.’s Atlantic Sunrise Expansion Project through state preserved farmland in Lycoming County.

“While your current review is focused specific to the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, I also strongly urge FERC to seek coordination to the greatest extent possible among other proposed pipeline projects that seek to move natural gas to market,” Mr. Corbett wrote in the Aug. 18 letter.

“A recurring issue raised by local residents is whether we are efficiently deploying infrastructure — and the appropriate level of communication is occurring between potential project developers — in a manner that minimizes and mitigates overall disturbance on both the environment and local communities.”

Mr. Talbott said the regulatory commission should be looking at all the pipeline projects on a regional level but refuses to do so.

“This Transcontinental project and the Tennessee pipeline project are just a few of the many proposals FERC is reviewing right now that impact Pennsylvania,” he said.

“FERC needs to be looking at the impacts on the region as a whole, including the cumulative effects of the gas drilling.”


Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.