Local businessman testifies on pipeline proposal

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An Avella businessman testified in Washington, D.C., Tuesday in support of legislation proposing to streamline the permitting of pipeline projects related to the transport of natural gas.


House Bill 1900, known as the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act is proposed by U.S. Rep. Michael Pompeo, R-Kansas, as an amendment to the federal Energy Act of 2005. It would require that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approve or deny a requested pipeline certificate no later than 12 months after providing public notice of the pipeline application.


The bill also would codify FERC’s requirements that all relevant government agencies approve or deny a permit application within 90 days after FERC’s notice of completion of the final environmental document with the possibility of a 30-day extension for certain situations. It also would require that a permit goes into effect if an agency does not issue a response within the 90-day time frame.


“Natural gas is going to be a big part of our energy future, but only if we cut the red tape” associated with approving natural gas pipeline projects, stated Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.


During the hearing before the Committee on Energy and Commerce in the Rayburn House Office Building, FERC Commissioner Phillip Moeller told the committee that the proposal could work, providing that applications from pipeline developers are deemed complete.


However, Moeller noted that FERC reviews applications from a wide range of pipeline projects from simple upgrades to existing lines to complex new projects covering hundreds of miles.


Some congressmen, like Henry Waxman, D-Calif., argued that FERC has a good record of approvals. It was noted that from 2009 to 2012, the commission approved 69 major pipeline projects covering 3,000 miles in 30 states.


Others on the committee said the change would speed up the permitting process to meet the spiraling growth of America’s natural gas production that is driving the need for additional pipeline infrastructure.


A 2012 study by the Interstate National Gas Association of America found that pipeline permitting delays of more than 90 days have risen 28 percent nationwide since 2005, while delays of 180 days or more have risen 20 percent.


Alex Paris, of Alex Paris Contracting in Avella, was introduced to the committee by U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Paris stated that his company has constructed 350,000 feet of pipeline in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays over the past several years.


“We are constantly hiring and training new employees due to our pipeline projects,” said Paris, who said his employee total has moved from 250 people in 2008 to a current count of 450.


He also noted that last year, the company purchased $16 million worth of trucks and new equipment.


But delays in pipeline projects in the region have also caused layoffs and idled equipment for his company, said Paris, who testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the Distribution Contractors Association.


During Tuesday’s hearing, two others testified against the proposal.


Maya van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said speeding up the permitting process would have detrimental environmental effects on the Delaware River basin, especially for agencies attempting to ensure that projects comply with the Clean Water Act.


Rick Kessler of the Pipeline Safety Trust, said that while the trust isn’t opposed to new pipeline projects, said the group “sees no policy rationale for a one-size-fits-all” approach to pipeline permitting.


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