(Rewrites with three natural gas pipeline companies seeking decisions by FERC, adds lawyer comment)
By Scott DiSavino
Jan 27 (Reuters) - Three U.S. natural gas pipeline companies on Friday asked the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for permission to move forward on their projects by Feb. 3, which is when one of the FERC commissioners will step down.
Only one of the three companies, Nexus Gas Transmission, specifically said it was making the request for a certificate to build its pipeline because Norman Bay, the former FERC chairman, said he would step down at the end of next week.
Bay said on Thursday he would leave his post after President Donald Trump appointed Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur as acting chairman.
When Bay steps down, only two of FERC's five commissioner slots will be filled.
FERC Chairman LaFleur said in a statement on Friday that the commission is working to get as many orders out as it can in the time it has left with a quorum.
"We are evaluating how best to do the business of the Commission after Commissioner Bay's departure," LaFleur said, noting FERC will be issuing a podcast on Monday with more detail.
"Nominations for the three openings at the Commission would be very welcome, and I look forward to the day when we have a full, five-member Commission again," she said.
The commission requires a quorum of three members to issue substantive orders, regulations and policy initiatives, according to Jay Ryan, a partner at Baker Botts law firm in Washington.
"Given the backlog of Trump administration nominees currently pending before the Senate, it could take several weeks or months for a new FERC commissioner to be nominated and confirmed," Ryan said in a statement.
Nexus said its request for commission attention now reflects its "concern that the absence of a quorum after Feb. 3 will stifle the Commission's ability to act, delaying commencement of construction to the point that it will jeopardize the project's ability to meet demand."
The other two companies, TransCanada Corp on its Leach XPress project and Williams on its Transco Atlantic Sunrise project, said they wanted FERC to make decisions by Feb. 3 without mentioning Bay.
Officials at Williams would not comment beyond their FERC filing. Officials at TransCanada were not immediately available for comment.
Williams is seeking a certificate to build Atlantic Sunrise and TransCanada is seeking a notice to proceed with construction of its Leach project.
The companies were seeking FERC approvals now to avoid potential delays that could occur if they miss windows for certain construction activities, like tree cutting.
Nexus is designed to move up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas per day (bcfd) from the Marcellus and Utica shale basins to the U.S. Midwest and Ontario. It will be built in Ohio, Michigan and Ontario.
The partners in the Nexus pipeline are Houston-based oil and gas pipeline company Spectra Energy and Michigan power and gas company DTE Energy Co.
Atlantic Sunrise will move up to 1.7 bcfd of gas from Pennsylvania to the Carolinas, while Leach will move about 1.5 bcfd of Marcellus and Utica gas to U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast markets.
(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Bill Rigby)