A review of public documents
Review and Analysis by Marita Hines, Lancaster Against Pipelines (LAP)
January 25, 2016
Williams Partners is proposing to build a large high-pressure pipeline, the Atlantic Sunrise project, the full length of Lancaster County, passing through farmlands, woodlands, and residential lots, a county that is historically and ecologically sensitive. Based on Williams' documents, the purpose of this project is to take the abundant gas from the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania and transport it to LNG export facilities, both at Cove Point, Maryland, and along the gulf coast.
Although FERC "collects" public comment and does facilitate some landowner issues in order to get through the approval process, the comments appear to be used for little else. No real measure of opposition is determined or considered for approval of the project which carries with it the power of eminent domain. These are the observations of our group. This analysis was submitted to FERC, challenging them to provide any evidence that other projects have been disapproved due to opposition or that this data is analyzed by FERC in any way. Lancaster Against Pipelines (LAP) felt that the comments and other public information was worthy of analysis and set out to do just that.
Analysis of Letters to FERC:
All letters to FERC posted under project PF 14-8-000 (submitted under the FERC prefiling process) and CP 15-138-000 (submitted under the formal filing process) have been reviewed and categorized through January 17, 2016.
Information was extracted from each comment. some of the results are summarized in the tables below.
Level of Pipeline Support
FERC comments were reviewed in order to determine if submissions were in favor of the pipeline. The level of support for this project here in Lancaster County according to FERC comments is a paltry 1.6%, and 3.1% for all combined areas.
Note that only 2,396 of the comments provided ZIP Code/location information (41% of total comments) and 61% of those were from Lancaster County. In other words, Lancaster residents were most vocal and least supportive of the project.
Level of Pipeline Support in Impacted Area
The analysis assumes the "impacted" area to be the counties in which the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is proposed to be constructed. It finds that of the pro-pipeline comments where a ZIP Code/location was provided, only 43.3% were from the "impacted" area compared to 94.9% for opposition comments. This supports LAP's belief that pro-pipeline comments are largely from those employed by the gas industry or who have received grant monies.
FERC Comment Concerns
Top landowner concerns for the project overall and here in Lancaster County are related to the destruction and diminished use of their properties.
One of the reasons that LAP does not feel that this project should carry the power of eminent domain is that the natural gas is of no benefit to our local community or the state and, in fact, the project is counter to landowner's own use for their land, both business and personal. FERC should be required to clarify why it feels one private business' profits are more important than all others' needs for this land, including business needs.
Overall, commenters expressed concerns about natural resources, conservation land and safety.
Analysis of Opposition by Measuring Landowner Cooperation
The amount of opposition to this project here in Lancaster County is reflected in the comments. We also believe that the level of cooperation in the form of easement agreements and the "blockades" of landowners against this project is just as revealing.
Impact Measured by Landowner Agreements
More than 15 months ago, Williams Partners began making offers to landowners along the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline prior to their formal filing with FERC. A former FERC attorney, Carolyn Elefant, stated to a Lancaster Newspaper reporter for an article dated September 23, 2014, that what Williams was doing was standard business practice. "And is done for a reason", Elefant said. "Early property acquisition basically locks in the company's preferred route," she said, "and forecloses meaningful consideration of alternatives as required by National Environmental Policy Act." Elefant also stated in this article that "One of the criteria that FERC evaluates in determining whether to approve a project is impact to landowners. If landowners voluntarily agree to a negotiated easement, FERC will find that they are not adversely impacted".
It appears to our group that the numerous "alternatives" being proposed by Williams are really just a farce to make it look as if they are considerate of landowner concerns. We wish to be clear that our group does not believe it is in the best interest of our county or even our country to allow this pipeline through any route in order to export the natural gas for private profit. In fact, expert energy analyst Dennis Witmer recently presented to our group that the entire project is not economically feasible and would ultimately result in higher rates for ratepayers here in the US.
That said, we believe that the number of easements in place at this point after an aggressive 15-month campaign by Williams is telling. Our analysis required review of landowner easements for the Atlantic Sunrise Project. The easement agreements are publicly available via the Lancaster County website and include an agreed-to route across the landowners' properties. By mapping the individual plots with and without easements, we were able to determine that at the most 66.9% of landowners in Lancaster County are under agreement for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. The non-easement properties were determined by analyzing the "gaps" in the route under agreement and using the least number of properties possible to close the gap.
In some areas of Lancaster County, the opposition by Landowners is very strong. Notice that through the town of Conestoga, only 27.8% of landowners have signed easements. As landowner cooperation is one of the criteria FERC uses for approval of the pipeline, this alone should cause them to reject the project outright.
This study was conducted to analyze the public records that have been generated during the permitting process for the Williams Pipeline Atlantic Sunrise project. While numerous paid advertisements purchased by the Gas Industry claim that this project has strong support, the public records reviewed in this study indicate very strong opposition.
In addition to the strong community opposition, LAP believes that Lancaster County is steep in historical significance that will be impacted by this pipeline. A recent newspaper article published by Lancaster Newspapers reported that 11 new archaeological sites have been registered with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission over the past year. All of these new sites, along with a 12th site registered in 1972, are along the proposed route of the pipeline.
These are just some of the many reasons LAP and its members have asked FERC to disapprove this project.
How Can You Get Involved in this Movement?
Author: Marita Hines
Marita Hines recently retired from her Financial Analyst position with US Postal Service Headquarters in Washington, DC, is a resident of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and active member of Lancaster Against Pipelines (LAP).
Lancaster Against Pipelines (LAP) is a 501(c)3 federally recognized non-profit organization. It is a grassroots coalition of local residents, business owners, church communities, and non-profits committed to protecting our county against the proposed Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline. The permanent right of way for this unwanted line through Lancaster County targets more than 50 preserved farms, plows through more than 50 scenic waterways, permanently fragments our woods, severely limits how landowners may use their own land, lowers property values, and poses a perpetual threat of toxic leaks and explosions to county residents. We believe our community has an inherent right to say "NO" to large-scale industrial projects that exploit our land, endanger our families, and radically threaten our way of life. We believe that the federal government should not grant the power of eminent domain to a project designed largely to carry US energy overseas. It is our mission to challenge and overturn this broken system.