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Natural gas pipeline expansion challenged in Pa.

Crews work over a mountain ridge to install the Transco Pipeline.
Aimee Dilger
Crews work over a mountain ridge to install the Transco Pipeline.

Near Frances Slocum State Park in Luzerne County, a pipeline is being constructed to transport natural gas from deep within the Marcellus Shale rock formation in Northern PA throughout the state and into New Jersey.

Crews from Michels Pipeline are working in trenches between piles of upheaved soil and bedrock, taller than the excavators they’re in. Part of the Regional Energy Expansion Project, they’re installing the pipeline over the ridge that separates the Back Mountain from the Wyoming Valley.

The natural gas expansion is a project by Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company. It's a subsidiary of The Williams Company, which is based in Oklahoma. The local work is an extension of the largest pipeline in the country, called the Transco Pipeline. That’s according to Williams CEO Alan Armstrong. He was interviewed twice in the past year by Bloomberg Finance News.

The company is constructing or expanding 36 miles of both new and existing pipelines through Pennsylvania, including in Northampton, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and York counties. Part of the project is modifying five existing compressor stations; three in PA including in Luzerne County; and two in New Jersey. They’re also modifying existing meter stations.

The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Map of the Transco Pipeline
Map of the Transco Pipeline

Williams received both state and federal permits to begin the construction earlier this year. However, environmental groups in the Poconos and in New Jersey are challenging some of those permits. And this month a group of attorneys general from eight states took legal action against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Aside from the damaging impacts to local forestry and waterways, the organizations and the attorneys general are arguing the project could have long-term consequences because of the climate crisis. It hinders the push for clean energy infrastructure.

“I think Transco would have a very different answer than ours, we would say there’s no need for this, there is not a need for expanded natural gas infrastructure, in light of the threats to our climate, in light of the threats to our environment. And honestly, frankly, in light of the shift in the energy market,” said Emma Best.

Best is an attorney for PennFuture. The nonprofit focuses on a clean energy economy and protecting air, water, land and sustainable communities.

Initially a media spokesperson from Williams Company said they had nothing else to add when WVIA News asked for an interview and directed us to the project’s website. I asked for clarification on some issues, including a response to the legal challenges and if the new pipeline will help lower gas costs for Pennsylvanians.

Through email, the spokesperson said gas demand in the region continues to rise as businesses and power plants convert to cleaner-burning gas to reduce emissions and meet clean air goals.

"Importantly, natural gas is a natural partner with renewables, empowering their growth to achieve an even cleaner energy future," the email said.

The legal challenges have not stopped the project.
Orange utility work signs are on the sides of roads throughout Luzerne County. In West Wyoming, large chunks of land are dug up and flattened on either side of Shoemaker Avenue. Rows of small green flags hang from power lines signaling where crews are working.

Peter Tarutis lives directly next to where the pipeline is being installed.

“I don’t look at it overly as negative, I just see it as a short term inconvenience for myself and my family,” he said.

He hopes that the time and money put into the project will lead to more efficiency and lower gas prices.

“That’s what we all hoped for.”


According to the project’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS), construction of the pipeline is estimated to disturb around 792 acres of land. After construction, 560 acres of land will be restored to its former use. The remaining 231 acres will be maintained. 

In 2021, there were around 3 million consumers of natural gas in Pennsylvania, according to the most recent data available on the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s website. The organization also reports that 61% of U.S. households use natural gas for at least one energy use.

Williams said the project will provide enough natural gas supply to serve approximately 3 million homes.

According to that project website, Williams is investing around $800 million in the project. The company is estimating it will generate $295 million in labor compensation and $357 million in the local economy. The pipeline project is creating over 6,000 local union jobs. Regional Energy Access is expected to add $17 million in state tax revenue and over $6.6 million in local tax revenue.


Under the National Environmental Protection Act, FERC did the Environmental Impact Study. The study features pages of public comment about the project. Local unions, as well as the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry support the pipeline. Oppositional comments came mostly from environmental groups and residents.

PennFuture filed an appeal against the water permits issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

“We do not believe that the permit is adequately protective of the special protection waters in Northeast Pennsylvania,” said Best.

The region is home to about 80% of either high quality or exceptional value streams in the state. According to the EIS, pipeline construction is crossing 39 high-quality waterways and two exceptional value waterways.

Those special protection waters are huge economic drivers in the region, said Best.

“They’re more ... sensitive to temperature disturbances, to sediment disturbances," She said. "It's our position that DEP didn’t adequately consider the nature of the special protection waters in granting these permits."

In total, the pipeline project is cutting across 39 water bodies that are full or flowing throughout the year; 16 water bodies that flow during certain times of the year; and 24 ephemeral water bodies or basins that flood for short periods but don’t always have water in them. 

The biggest waterway the pipeline crosses is the Susquehanna River.

Transco said they’re using the Direct Pipe method. WVIA News asked Williams for clarification — Direct Pipe is a single-pass trenchless pipe installation method.

The pipeline already goes under the river in Wyoming, in the area near where the Susquehanna gave way during the Knox Mine Disaster in 1959. The new line is about a mile away. The company reviewed historical underground mine records, according to the EIS.

The innovative, agency-approved method was selected after extensive geological review of the Susquehanna River, according to Williams. Installation and inspections of the pipeline river crossing were recently completed.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network is challenging FERC’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, said Kacy Manahan, senior attorney with the organization. The environmental advocacy nonprofit asked for a rehearing. It was denied. The organization appealed that denial.

“One of the biggest issues that ... we’re addressing in this litigation is that they said ... 'we’re not going to consider the project’s impact on climate change, we’re not going to determine whether that’s significant or not',” said Manahan.

Manahan said FERC has a history of not taking the impacts of climate change into consideration.

“Which is bad enough on its own, but especially bad considering they’re essentially locking in these multi-decade long fossil fuel operations ... when we really need to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels,” said Manahan.

WVIA News reached out to FERC for comment. They did not respond.

Manahan said they would like to see the permits vacated.

“What the permittee and what the agencies decide to do from there really is up to them," she said.


On Aug. 9, attorneys general from New Jersey, Washington, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Vermont filed a brief in federal court against the FERC Permit.

The brief states that FERC’s decision threatens the state interests in protecting the environment, economies and the ability to make effective energy policy on their borders. They’re arguing FERC disregarded state law.

A spokesperson for Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry said the office has “nothing to add on this matter at this time.”

Armstrong, Williams CEO, called for permitted reform in March while at CERAWeek, an annual energy conference. 

He previously said the biggest resource in the country is the Marcellus and the Utica rock formations. If it was a nation, he said, that region would be the third largest gas producer in the world behind the United States and Russia.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Armstong said that the U.S. has enough natural gas supplies to meet the demand but will be unable to unless some of the bigger resources are unlocked. Armstrong said FERC has been neutralized by things like the Clean Water Act, which gives states the right to stop projects.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.