Public accountability report takes aim at National Fuel

Mia Summerson/staffDuring a public information meeting in January, 2016, National Fuel displayed several pictures and maps to help the public get a better idea of what the Liberty Drive dehydration facility in Wheatfield might look like and how it would work. 

National Fuel's plan to construct the Northern Access Pipeline has been rejected by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The DEC announced Saturday afternoon that, following a review, the agency has denied water quality certificates needed for the project which would have resulted in the construction of a 97-mile pipeline capable of carrying natural gas from Pennsylvania through Western New York. 

The decision follows three public hearings in which the DEC fielded 5,700 comments. The agency said it based its decision on the project's "failure to avoid adverse impacts to wetlands, streams, and fish and other wildlife habitat."

"We are confident that this decision supports our state’s strict water quality standards that all New Yorkers depend on," the DEC said in a statement released Saturday afternoon. 

The Northern Access Pipeline project previously received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The granting of permits by the state would have cleared the way for National Fuel to build the pipeline between northwestern Pennsylvania and Niagara County, as well as a gas compressor station in Pendleton and a dehydration facility in Wheatfield. Plans called for another compressor station in Elma to be expanded as well. 

Prior to Saturday's decision, critics of the Northern Access Pipeline, including opponents living in Pendleton and Wheatfield, called on the DEC to deny water and air quality permits in hopes of halting the project. In addition to fears regarding emissions, safety and potential leaks, protesters emphasize the 192 stream and 270 wetlands that the pipeline would cross. 

Late last month, area protesters took their fight to Albany, assembling in front of DEC headquarters to call for an end to the controversial $455 million project. Protesters also took their message to the state Capital building, where they attempted to inform onlookers about the potential dangers the pipeline could pose to those living near it. They also delivered copies of a letter that was signed by more than 140 organizations, businesses and faith communities that want to see the DEC and Gov. Andrew Cuomo deny the permits the project needs to break ground. 

Denial of permits by the DEC effectively kills the project, however similar decisions made by the agency have been challenged in court in the past.

One recent example is the Constitution Pipeline, which was designed to carry Marcellus Shale gas produced in Northeast Pennsylvania to Schoharie, N.Y. The project partners filed a lawsuit after the DEC denied a joint application for water quality certification permits. A federal court recently dismissed the partners' case challenging the state's permitting requirements. 

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