Wednesday, May 23, 2012
U.S. Agency Approves New Gas Line to Run Under Hudson
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved the construction of a much-debated natural gas pipeline that would run beneath the Hudson River from New Jersey into the West Village in Manhattan, connecting with Consolidated Edison’s distribution system.
The 4-to-0 decision on Monday had been widely expected since the commission’s staff concluded in March that the construction and operation of the pipeline would not pose significant environmental hazards.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg supports the project, which would transport up to 800 million cubic feet of gas a day, as a way of meeting New York City’s growing energy needs. But antidrilling groups and many public officials in the region, including the mayors of Hoboken and Jersey City, oppose the pipeline, and legal challenges are expected.
The $1.2 billion project, proposed by Spectra Energy of Houston, includes 15.2 miles of new pipeline that would run from Staten Island through Bayonne, N.J., and Jersey City before crossing over to Manhattan beneath West Street. It would be the first major natural gas transmission line to reach the city in 40 years.
“This approval clears the way for a much-needed new natural gas supply in the New York City region,” Mr. Bloomberg’s deputy mayor for operations, Caswell F. Holloway, said in a statement. Mr. Holloway said the project would make the city’s energy supply more reliable and help reduce emissions of soot and heat-trapping greenhouse gases by providing an alternative to more polluting energy sources like oil.
But opponents on both sides of the Hudson have cited safety concerns, including the possibility of accidental explosions beneath densely populated areas, industrial sites and bodies of water.
Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy of Jersey City said in an interview that he also worried that the pipeline and the construction bustle would discourage investment in his city, where the population of about 250,000 is already doubled on weekdays by commuters. He said the city planned to appeal the commission’s decision and, if need be, to challenge it in court.
“This is a foolhardy place to put this high-pressure pipeline,” Mr. Healy said.
The pipeline has also been caught in the furor over horizontal hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting large volumes of water and chemicals underground to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. New York environmental officials are weighing whether to begin granting permits for such drilling upstate.
The federal commission addressed some of the concerns in its order approving the pipeline, saying it would bring in natural gas from multiple sources.
“This project is driven by a desire to bring additional, reliable, competitively priced gas supplies to New Jersey and New York end users,” the order said. “It is not designed to serve as a gathering system for gas from the Marcellus Shale.”
It added, “The development of the Marcellus and other shale reserves is expected to proceed over decades, and will do so with or without the proposed project.”
Spectra officials said they hoped to begin construction on the pipeline, an expansion of the company’s Texas Eastern Transmission and Algonquin Gas Transmission interstate pipeline systems, in June and to complete the work by November 2013, when the pipeline would start service.
“We remain committed to safely constructing this critically needed pipeline and look forward to a timely notice to proceed,” said Marylee Hanley, a spokeswoman for the company.
Spectra officials said that the project had been modified considerably to meet safety concerns and that it now exceeded federal requirements. Plans call for the pipeline to lie as deep as 200 feet underground.
The project also involves replacing five miles of existing pipeline from Staten Island to Linden, N.J., and installing associated equipment and facilities in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It would span Middlesex County in Connecticut; Bergen, Hudson, Morris and Union Counties in New Jersey; and Manhattan, Staten Island and Rockland County in New York.
Parties have 30 days to request a rehearing of the action by the commission, which regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil as well as proposals to build interstate natural gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas terminals.