Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)
A frivolous Sierra Club lawsuit has forced an Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline work stoppage, putting 2,500 people out of work and to the unemployment office.
Just before the holidays, thousands of workers who were working on the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline project have been escorted to the unemployment office–courtesy the odious Sierra Club. Yesterday we brought you the sad news that the Sierra Club’s lawsuit has stopped work on the $3 billion pipeline project.
Companies building closely-vetted and highly regulated projects like Atlantic Sunrise project are jobs creators. The Sierra Club is a jobs destroyer. We asked Williams how many workers have been idled because of the work stoppage from the “temporary” order from the court. Williams spokesman Chris Stockton replied: “The exact number is 2,500.” He also said this: “It is costing about $8 million per day in idle construction costs.” The Clubbers’ frivolous lawsuit is causing real pain and real suffering for thousands of workers…and their families…and their children.
Williams issued a press release yesterday to say they have filed a “Motion for Clarification” to determine what the emergency stop work order affects, just construction work in PA? Or the work they’ve already done (and are doing) outside of PA, which would stop new quantities of Marcellus gas already flowing south? Williams says they expect the court will conduct their review “expeditiously” and end this charade (our word) very soon.
Antis rejoiced in the news of the stop work order, including one of the “leaders” of the airheaded opposition, who sounded like an 80s Valley Girl when she said: “I can’t believe it, like, does this mean they can’t continue with construction? Like, seriously?” Meanwhile, like some 2,500 people are like tragically out of work, including like 370 in Schuylkill County alone. Merry Christmas from the Sierra Club and from a small group of radicals called Lancaster Against Pipelines.
Below are a variety of sources covering the latest developments in this story. First up, the press release issued by Williams yesterday:
Williams Partners L.P. (NYSE: WPZ) today filed a Motion for Clarification of an administrative stay issued yesterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions’ authorization of the company’s Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline project. The purpose of the administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider an emergency motion filed by project opponents last week requesting FERC extend a comprehensive four-year permitting process even further.
“Atlantic Sunrise has undergone a nearly four-year, extensive review process and is operating and being constructed in compliance with all state and federal permits,” said Micheal Dunn, Williams Partners’ chief operating officer. “These current actions by opponents of American energy are, this morning, idling thousands of workers in Pennsylvania and could delay the benefits of low-cost energy delivery to millions of American families.”
Dunn continued: “It is important to stress that this temporary stay is administrative and not related to the project’s execution or its compliance with applicable federal or state regulations or permit conditions. It is merely intended to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the motion recently filed by project opponents and is not a ruling on the merits of that motion. Our expectation is that the court will expeditiously complete its review.
“We have worked with countless elected officials, regulators, environmental consultants and landowners to bring this vital U.S. energy project to construction, and a vast majority of stakeholders understand how critical these types of projects are to economic growth, jobs and manufacturing expansion in addition to helping the U.S. transition away from the use of higher carbon fuels.”
Atlantic Sunrise pipeline construction broke ground in Pennsylvania on Sept. 15, 2017. While the company has ceased construction activities until the temporary stay is lifted, the company believes it is prudent and will continue to maintain environmental controls related to construction to remain in compliance with Federal and Pennsylvania permits, while protecting the environment.
During peak construction periods, the project is anticipated to directly employ approximately 2,300 people in 10 Pennsylvania counties. In addition, the project could support an additional 6,000 jobs in related industries and generate up to $1.6 billion in economic activity, according to researchers at Pennsylvania State University.
The nearly $3 billion project, which is designed to increase natural gas deliveries by 1.7 billion cubic feet per day, is expected to be placed into full service in mid-2018.
More insight into the request from Williams (actually, from their subsidiary Transco Pipeline), asking the court for clarification on what exactly has been halted:
Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line has asked the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to clarify the reach of a temporary administrative stay of the certificate authorization for the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline project the court ordered Monday.
In a Tuesday morning filing, Transco warned that if the stay applied beyond Pennsylvania — including to parts of the project already in service — it could impede service to existing Transco customers.
The DC Circuit Monday granted a temporary stay, pausing construction to give the court time to consider an emergency stay request that environment groups filed (Allegheny Defense Project, et al., v. US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).
“The purpose of the administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion for stay and should not be constructed in any way as ruling on the merits of that motion,” the court said in a per curiam order issued Monday.
Transco, in a motion to the court Tuesday, sought clarification of whether the stay applied beyond construction currently occurring in Pennsylvania in six construction spreads, noting the project also entails facilities in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
The court Tuesday ordered the petitioners to respond to Transco’s motion for clarification by 2 pm the same day.
While the petitioners did not submit declarations of how members would be affected in the states other than Pennsylvania, a stay of the certificate order would stay construction in the other states, Transco’s motion for clarification said.
“As Transco noted in its response to the motion, some facilities are already complete and in service, pursuant to FERC letter orders, including a replacement of two segments of pipeline on Transco’s main pipeline system in Virginia. A stay of the certificate order could require taking completed facilities out of service, which would have significant adverse impacts on Transco, its customers and the environment,” the court filing said.
Existing facilities currently provide “partial path” firm service of up to 400,000 Dt/d, the company said. Because the facilities are integrated into Transco’s existing mainline, they are needed for transportation service to existing customers on the Transco system, it said.
“In other words, these facilities cannot be shut down without also shutting down existing Transco facilities,” it said.
Transco sought clarification that the order only applies to construction, not operation of completed facilities, and that it only applies to one construction spread in Pennsylvania, where landowners who supported the petitioners’ motion own property.
Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Sierra Club, filing on behalf of Allegheny Defense Project and seven other groups, in an appeals court motion October 30, said among other things that the federal environmental review of the Atlantic Sunrise project failed to meet the standard that the court laid out for evaluating greenhouse gas emissions under the Sabal Trail project decision.
Craig Stevens, the spokesperson for the Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN) coalition, sent the following comment to MDN:
“The DC Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to halt construction of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, if verified, is troubling. The project underwent nearly four years of comprehensive review and study, and has received all necessary state and federal approvals. This roadblock – even if just temporary – sends a chilling message to an industry that is looking to invest billions of dollars in private infrastructure projects, not to mention to the thousands of Pennsylvania workers who may not have a job to go to tomorrow – an especially tough blow to these families on the eve of the holiday season.”
The Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance sent this statement to MDN:
Over the weekend, the Pottsville Republican & Evening Record published a story about pipeline work being visible in Schuylkill County. The work was related to the 186-mile Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. The story was the result of a tour granted to media last week at a staging area in Tremont.
More than 370 people were employed there, working 10-hour days, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., six days a week, according to the story. Many of the employees are local union workers who are helping to build the $3 billion pipeline, which includes a construction workforce of about 2,300 who are directly employed by the pipeline company or its contractors, and another 6,000 additional workers who are working on the project either indirectly or as subcontractors in related industries.
But all of that work — and associated jobs — is now on hold. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Monday halted work in response to an emergency motion filed Oct. 30 by environmental groups opposing the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. The timing of any next step is unclear.
This isn’t the first time opponents have used the courts to stop or delay construction that is already under way. The Environmental Hearing Board halted directional drilling on the Mariner East 2 pipeline project in July until an August hearing. The project later restarted. The case was just one in a string of cases by opponents and subsequent rulings.
Let’s be clear: These projects have been the subject of intense scrutiny. Local voices have been heard at dozens of public meetings and hearings over the years. Regulators have been anything but lax in their reviews after testimony and comments, and before issuing legal approvals. But these cases persist.
Kurt Knaus,spokesman for Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance, said:
“This project remains critically important for Pennsylvania — and especially so for the skilled laborers and highly trained workers who now find themselves wondering what comes next. After years of review and considerable public input, Atlantic Sunrise received its legal approval. The courts should move quickly to resolve this matter and get this project back on track. Beyond the jobs affected, it’s also important to understand the potential for environmental risks related to start-and-stop construction activity. That makes it even more critical for a speedy solution.”
Can you imagine getting canned right now, just as you were about to buy Christmas presents? The small group of antis responsible reacted to the news that the work has stopped, throwing thousands out of high-paying jobs, by celebrating:
Anti-pipeline activists are hesitantly celebrating after a federal court ordered a temporary halt on construction for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.
The project is slated to run through 10 Pennsylvania counties, including Lancaster, Lebanon, Northumberland, and Schuylkill.
Dozens of protesters have been arrested since construction started in September.
Several groups filed a motion last month, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to order work halted until federal regulators do a more comprehensive review on the environmental impacts.
Malinda Harnish Clatterbuck, co-founder of the group Lancaster Against Pipelines, said she spent a lot of time on the phone with lawyers after the court’s order Monday.
“I can’t believe it, like, does this mean they can’t continue with construction? Like, seriously? Because that doesn’t happen very often,” she said.
Clatterbuck said while it’s noteworthy, the temporary delay doesn’t mean activists can sit back. Her group is planning on future demonstrations and education efforts.
“I’m trying not to be too hopeful,” she said. “I understand this could be a temporary thing. But I also feel like we have to celebrate that this is maybe a change and a more just decision for the people.”
Meanwhile, not only is Williams losing $8 million each day the work is stopped, Cabot Oil & Gas, which would be the main shipper along the expanded pipeline, lost money too when its stock price slipped:
Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., which would be the largest gas shipper on Atlantic Sunrise, plunged as much as 5.6 percent. The shares closed down 3.3 percent at $27.84 in New York. Cabot also began trading ex-dividend Tuesday.
With Atlantic Sunrise in service, Cabot would be able to increase its gas production by 1 billion cubic feet a day, or by nearly 50 percent annually, Robert Christensen, an analyst at Drexel Hamilton, wrote in a note on Tuesday.
“This is a major upset,” Christensen wrote, while downgrading Cabot to hold from buy. “Now there is no telling when this project may proceed.”
Cabot had planned for a mid-2018 start of the project and to sell about 1 billion cubic feet of gas a day along the pipeline to new markets, according to company filings dated Oct. 27. The company didn’t immediately respond to phone and email requests seeking comment.
The Sierra Club and the other Big Green groups are causing the destruction of jobs and the destruction of economic value due to their reckless lawsuit. When will someone launch a lawsuit that makes Big Green pay? Let’s relieve them of some of the buckets of money they have available to spend on litigation.