Federal regulators approve Appalachian pipelines before quorum dissolves

Preparing for a lack of a quorum for the foreseeable future, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission made a series of rulings last week that might speed up the development of natural gas pipelines and the drilling of wells that will supply them in Appalachia.

FERC, which evaluates and grants certificates to interstate pipelines, is now missing three commissioners from its five-seat body. It was already two members short when President Donald Trump promoted Cheryl LaFleur to be acting chair, taking the post away from Norman Bay who resigned Friday.

But before he did so, Mr. Bay and his fellow commissioners granted certificates for:

     • The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, a 200-mile line from Susquehanna County to Lancaster County.

     • The Rover pipeline, a 713-mile line extending from Washington County through the Midwest and into Ontario.

     • The Empire pipeline, a 99-mile line from McKean County to several counties in New York.

FERC’s decision spree last week won’t “translate directly into immediate construction or renewed drilling,” said Brandon Barnes, senior litigation analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence.

The commission got the ball rolling in that direction for a handful of projects, he said, but permission to begin construction will be granted by the agency’s staff at a later time.

Still, it gave some pipeline and oil and gas companies a signal that infrastructure bottlenecks in this region that have kept natural gas prices below the national benchmark might soon ease.

Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., which took down its drilling program to one rig last year, is adding another this quarter, said George Stark, a spokesperson for the company.

“We just look down the road and think to ourselves, if these pipelines are going to come online, you’re going to need the natural gas to get to them,” Mr. Stark said.

The Texas-based company whose Marcellus Shale operations are concentrated in Susquehanna County, is the anchor shipper on the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.

Bruised by New York State’s rejection of a water permit for the Constitution Pipeline, which was proposed to carry gas from northeastern Pennsylvania through New York, Cabot’s stock price swelled on the news that another route for its gas would proceed.

Three pipelines proposed for the region were excluded from FERC’s flurry of activity last week: The PennEast pipeline, which would run from northeastern Pennsylvania to New Jersey; the Mountain Valley Pipeline, slated to travel from West Virginia to the southern part of the state and be operated by EQT Midstream Partners; and the Nexus Pipeline, meant to stretch from Ohio into Michigan.

Mr. Barnes said it’s his understanding that even if someone were appointed to head the commission today, it would take about two months to take effect, given the backlog in vetting in Washington at the moment.

Mr. Trump has not announced a nomination yet.

Anya Litvak: alitvak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.

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