National Fuel has proposed the construction of the Northern Access Pipeline to transport hydro-fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, according to the National Fuel website. Maps provided on the website outline the proposed path of nearly 100 miles of new pipeline infrastructure, beginning in McKean County in Pennsylvania, crossing the edge of Allegany County in New York, and continuing up through Cattaraugus, Erie, and Niagara Counties. The project will also include constructing accessory structures such as gas compressors and dehydration facilities.
Last month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved construction of the $455 million pipeline project, according to a statement released by National Fuel. The Niagara Gazette reported the pipeline is expected to have a minimal impact on the environment and nearby landowners due to the fact that many sections of the new pipeline will be co-located with existing infrastructure. It is also expected to meet “a new demand,” according to FERC. A statement by National Fuel also anticipated the project will have an economic impact of $930 million, with $735 of that taking place in New York.
However, Time Warner Cable News reported many residents and environmental activists in the affected regions are concerned about the proposed pipeline. The Sierra Club Niagara Group’s website raises concerns about land devaluation and water contamination in the Southern Tier. “The pipeline will trench through or bore under 180 streams, 270 wetlands and 7 ponds,” according to the Sierra Club’s website. The website suggests the stated economic impact does not take into consideration devaluation of property, especially farmland.
The proposed pipeline will cross the Cattaraugus Creek Basin Aquifer for a distance of approximately 13 miles. The Sierra Club noted, “This is an EPA designated sole source aquifer, meaning it can more readily be impacted by surface pollution, that supplies public water to over 20,000 residents.” While FERC has stated “environmental impacts were taken into consideration and incorporated into the design of the Northern Access Pipeline,” an EPA report published in 1987 warned “The residents of communities within the area defined by the Cattaraugus Creek Basin Aquifer are entirely dependent upon groundwater for their drinking water supply. If substantial contamination were to occur, it would create a significant hazard to public health.” The Buffalo News commentedthe environmental impact statement released by FERC last July did not suggest safeguards against contamination of the sole source aquifer, but rather suggestedthe majority of construction does not pose a threat due to the localized, shallow nature of the planned excavations.
According to the Niagara News Source, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) held a public hearing in February regarding the pipeline. Representatives for National Fuel, residents, and environmental activists were present. At this hearing, proponents of the project cited regional economic benefits while opponents called to extend the public comment period to discuss health risks as well as evaluate whether this project will hinder New York State’s renewable energy goals.