Oklahoma-based Williams Companies has received the green light from federal regulators to begin construction on sections of the Rockaway Pipeline.

Based on the recommendation of its environmental reviewers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted on May 8th to issue a “certificate of public convenience and necessity…authorizing the construction and operation of the Rockaway Project facilities.”

Directly Connecting the Five Boroughs to the Transco Pipeline

The anchor element of the project is a new 3-mile feeder line off the Rockaway coast which Williams Companies will connect to its existing 10,500 mile Transco Pipeline. The Transco pipeline runs all the way from Texas to the New York-New Jersey area.

The new feeder line will travel along the ocean floor toward Jacob Riis Park, and then underneath it, delivering gas to new mains below Jamaica Bay. Those mains have been completed by National Grid.

In a later phase of construction, National Grid will connect its new cross-Bay lines to customers in Brooklyn and Queens via a new gas meter and regulating station to be housed within a historic hangar at Floyd Bennett Field. Gas entering the meter station will eventually link to an existing gas main on Flatbush Avenue.

The 60,000 square foot meter station at Floyd Bennett Field will also be constructed by Williams.

A Green Light with Conditions

The Commission’s order does come with a series of conditions designed to mitigate the environmental impacts of the project. For instance, prior to construction, Williams must:

“File an assessment identifying the specific additives that would be used in the [off-shore] horizontal directional drilling fluid, including…the concentration and dilution rates for each additive; an evaluation of the toxicity of each additive; [and] an evaluation of the potential for bioaccumulation of each additive in the food chain.”

FERC’s reviewers have requested this information previously: questions about the drilling fluid to be used in constructing the off-shore trench were included in the agency’s Environmental Impact Statement released in February.

Recent Safety Issues for Williams

Photo credit: The Creole
Photo credit: The Creole

Earlier this month, Bloomberg News reported that, “Williams…the fourth-biggest U.S. pipeline operator, is studying its safety practices after a series of incidents including a fatal Louisiana explosion in June and a fire last week at a natural gas-processing plant in Wyoming.

“The April 23 fire shut down the gas plant near Opal, Wyoming, and forced the evacuation of the town as a precaution. That followed a March 31 explosion at a liquefied gas storage facility in Plymouth, Washington, that led to another evacuation,” says the Bloomberg story.

“In December, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed a $99,000 fine against…Williams following a June explosion at a processing plant in Geismar, Louisiana. Two workers were killed and 80 were injured when a fireball erupted at the plant.”

In its authorization for the Rockaway project, the Commission notes that, “several [outside] commenters expressed concern about the potential for fire or explosion, availability of fire hydrants and firefighting equipment, remote monitoring of the pipeline, emergency response…”

These concerns have been addressed by Williams, said the Commission in its order.

“Transco proposed a more stringent design for the Rockaway Project than is required by the [federal Department of Transportation] regulations,” the Commission stated.

Questions from the Community

As we reported in February, the complex Rockaway project has attracted considerable attention from community organizations because of its location within a national park, its proximity to marine life, and the vulnerability of the Rockaway coastline to catastrophic storms.

In its authorization, the Commission discusses additional concerns raised by local groups, such as why the National Grid and Williams sections of the project were not reviewed jointly and whether this “segmentation” of the project was a violation of federal environmental law.

The Commission argues that they have no jurisdiction over National Grid’s sections of the project, even though National Grid’s half of the pipeline is dependent on Williams.

“Improper segmentation arises when a federal project, i.e., a major Federal action, has been segmented into separate projects to avoid compliance with NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act],” writes the Commission.

“Contrary to the suggestion of the project opponents, the National Grid pipeline will not function as a Commission-jurisdictional transmission facility [as opposed to a more local distribution line].

Therefore, the Commission had no authority to prevent construction of the facilities commencing prior to the completion of our environmental review of Transco’s proposed facilities,” they conclude.

And the Commission does not accept the argument put forward by some opponents that the Rockaway Pipeline will stimulate more gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale, leading to regional environmental degradation.

Most of the gas coming from the Rockaway Pipeline- eight-five percent, the Commission says- would have made it into the New York City area anyway, because of existing Transco/Williams delivery points off the coast of Long Island.

Construction to Start at Floyd Bennett Field

Photo credit: H.L.I.T. via Creative Commons
Photo credit: H.L.I.T. via Creative Commons

On Thursday, Williams wrote to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, stating that it will begin work on converting two hangars at Floyd Bennett Field into the planned meter and regulating station.

“[We are] planning to commence stabilization-related activities, described in the attached table, at Hangars 1 & 2 as soon as the lease agreement with the National Park Service is executed,” the company noted.