The pipeline infrastructure that carries natural gas from the Marcellus Shale through Pennsylvania is insufficient as rapid development of the state’s natural gas stores takes place. There are not enough pipelines to ship the natural gas to markets, and pressure to develop this network is mounting. An expedited process to approve pipelines through pre-filing, where paperwork for pipeline approval is started early, is helping to ensure this rapid development. This could mean taking on more risk in terms of safety and the environment.
While hydraulic fracturing is only available in parts of the state of Pennsylvania, the networks of pipelines transporting the gas are likely to impact every county in the state. Resources from the Marcellus Shale will be pumping through newly constructed pipelines within proximity to cities, churches, and schools, such as Lehigh University and throughout the Lehigh Valley. In 2015 alone, 12 applications for pipelines coursing through Pennsylvania have been sent into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC, while 31 pipeline projects in PA over the past five years have been approved by the agency (“Approved Pipelines”, 2015; “Major Pipeline”, 2015).
The ultimate decision on most pipelines comes from FERC. Holding the hefty privilege of deciding for the American people if a pipeline is necessary, their responsibilities include reviewing pipeline applications and their environmental impacts. Although Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) are thorough accounts compiled by multiple government agencies, they tend to lack enough evidence to challenge the development of pipelines. FERC rarely denies pipeline applications based on environmental impacts, as they’re in the business of administering pipeline certificates to those proposals that follow their regulations (Northey, 2014).
The future of the PennEast pipeline, set to run through Bethlehem, PA, will soon be decided on by FERC. If approved, Northampton and Lehigh Counties will be tied into the network of areas affected by the fracking boom and its subsequent impacts. An opportunity for communities inclined to challenge the construction of the pipeline still exists.