Pennsylvania State Sen. John Blake is urging members of the state Public Utility Commission to grant utility status to Laser Northeast Gathering, a controversial move that would give the shale gas pipeline company the authority of eminent domain, or condemning private land for company use. Laser’s request for a “certificate of public convenience” — the document that would acknowledge the pipeline as a utility — has been before the commission since last year.
Laser Northeast, led by CEO Tom Karam, a Scranton native, broke ground Feb. 1 on the 33-mile natural gas gathering network for Susquehanna County gas wells, connecting to an interstate pipeline to the north. Blake, a Democrat, said he supports Laser’s petition not because he wants such pipeline companies to have eminent domain power, but because he wants pipeline construction and operation thoroughly regulated. That level of regulation requires a utility status, he said.
“Eminent domain is not the only issue,” Blake said. “We have this phenomenon of natural gas exploration in our state, and it is important we have uniform standards at the highest bar. We need a pipeline industry, and it needs to be highly regulated.”
Some opponents to Laser’s petition are other pipeline companies, Blake said, because they prefer to avoid PUC regulation. Blake asked commissioners to disregard the recommendation of their own administrative law judge, Susan Colwell, who in an advisory decision issued in December, said Laser didn’t meet the definition of a utility, nor did it require utility status to do business.
Blake said Laser’s level of cooperation and concessions could provide a model for other pipeline companies in the state.