A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected a last-ditch bid by a coalition of environmental groups to stop the construction of a natural gas pipeline in northern Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal energy regulators properly approved the 39-mile MARC 1 pipeline through Bradford, Sullivan and Lycoming counties. The decision clears the way for the pipeline to begin moving gas from the Marcellus Shale formation this fall.
"We have contended from the beginning that the MARC I Pipeline would be undertaken with the strongest commitment to environmental and ecological protections," said Bill Moler, an executive with Inergy Midstream LP of Kansas City, Mo.
Some landowners have been fighting the company building the pipeline, contending that Inergy subsidiary Central New York Oil & Gas refused to negotiate in good faith on either monetary compensation or the pipeline's route. The Sierra Club and two local groups challenged a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to authorize construction, saying regulators should have performed a more thorough environmental assessment.
The New York-based appeals court said that FERC's analysis of the pipeline's impact on forests and migratory birds was sufficient, and that regulators "reasonably concluded" that broader impacts caused by natural gas development in the Marcellus should not factor into the analysis of the MARC 1 project.
An attorney for the company, William Demarest, said it's highly unlikely either the full circuit court or the U.S. Supreme Court would agree to take on any appeal by the environmental groups.
"This was the final hurdle," he said. "I think the court felt it was appropriate to remove any lingering cloud that might be hanging over the project by making it clear that you are not going to have the rug pulled out from under you."
Earthjustice, an environmental group that represented the plaintiffs, said that while the ruling was a disappointment, "participation in this process made a real difference," noting the company was forced to abide by seasonal construction limits to protect wildlife and take measures to prevent stream damage.
"Now that pipelines are on the radar screen, our clients and other concerned citizens will be putting the lessons they learned in this case into renewed efforts to minimize the adverse impacts of gas development and infrastructure on public health and the environment," Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg said in a statement.
Central New York promotes the MARC 1 pipeline as key infrastructure in developing the Marcellus, a rock formation underneath Pennsylvania and surrounding states that experts believe holds the nation's largest reservoir of gas. The MARC 1 will connect to major interstate pipelines and the company's own natural gas storage facility in southern New York state.
FERC, which considers all applications for new interstate pipelines, received 22,000 comments on the MARC 1, with many expressing concern about environmental and safety impacts. The Environmental Protection Agency also worried about potential damage to the forest ecosystem, noting the pipeline will cross dozens of pristine waterways in an area popular with hikers, hunters and fishermen.