Laser Pipeline Withdraws Request to Become PA Public Utility

In a split 3-2 decision in May of this year, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) voted to confer public utility status on Laser Northeast Gathering, a 30-mile, $55 million pipeline that stretches from Susquehanna County, PA to Broome County, NY (see MDN story here). When complete, the pipeline will connect wells in Susquehanna County with the Millennium Pipeline in Broome County. The Millennium is an interstate pipeline that transports gas from Steuben County in western NY to Rockland County, near New York City, hooking in with several other large interstate pipelines along the way. Laser sought public utility status so it would have the power of eminent domain—the power to run the pipeline under property even if landowners object. At the time, MDN objected.

An official declaration of public utility status was not fully and officially executed, and in July of this year the PUC reconsidered whether or not to move forward with it. The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA) objected to public utility status for Laser because it was concerned a precedent would be established and all pipeline operators would come under the jurisdiction of the PUC with extra (and costly) regulations (see MDN story here).

Now it seems the PUC may not have to fret—Laser is withdrawing its application to be a public utility under PA law. The pipeline is almost done and Laser will complete it without the need to use eminent domain powers—so there’s no more reason to become a public utility, and a lot of extra baggage (like serving any and all customers) if they do become one.

Thomas Karam, chairman and CEO of Laser Northeast Gathering Co. LLC, said the company’s business model has changed, but did not say why or give many details.

"We’ve made the business decision to focus our business and growth to serve a limited number of customers," he said in a statement.

In a filing dated Thursday, Laser asked the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission for permission to withdraw the application it filed in January 2010. It said it is no longer willing to serve any and all potential customers, and that it is no longer committed to expand its facilities to meet demand as would a public utility.

Karam said last year that Laser’s primary reasons for applying for public utility status had been to gain access to public rights of way without having to satisfy each individual municipality’s zoning rules. A Laser spokeswoman said Monday that construction is a few weeks away from completion.*

*Elmira Star-Gazette/AP (Sep 12, 2011) – Gas pipeline firm pulls utility application