Three years after it was proposed, the controversial Atlantic Sunrise pipeline on Friday was given federal approval to begin moving dirt.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued its notice to proceed for the entire 197-mile, $3 billion natural gas project, including the laying of 37 miles of 42-inch pipe in Lancaster County.

Williams Partners spokesman Christopher Stockton said work will likely begin on the pipeline the week of Sept. 25 because the contractor needs time to mobilize equipment and begin site preparation.

In Lancaster County specifically, he said, the majority of work will not begin for another month or so. That’s because more heavily wooded counties north of Lancaster County need considerably more tree clearing on rights of way.

“The first activity people will see is site grading and the establishment of erosion control devices,” Stockton said.

A religious freedom lawsuit against pipeline owner Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. and FERC in federal court has been filed by a Catholic order of nuns near Columbia.

But Stockton said the lawsuit by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ “does not affect our right to start pipeline construction as scheduled.”

Asked if the nuns have been instructed to remove an outdoor chapel that opponents built on their property in a cornfield, Stockton said, “Not yet. We will likely work through their attorney to relay our construction schedule once it is finalized.”

Members of Lancaster Against Pipelines, who built the simple open-air chapel in West Hempfield Township, have vowed to protect the structure.

Pipes for the pipeline in Lancaster County have been stockpiled for months in Lebanon.

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The Central Penn Line South section of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, which includes Lancaster County, is a shortcut between points on the interstate Transco pipeline.

It would run from Susquehanna County to the Transco main line in Lancaster County near Holtwood.

The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is being built to carry natural gas from drilling wells in the Marcellus Shale region of northeast Pennsylvania to markets up and down the East Coast, and for transport overseas by ships.