CONESTOGA, Pa. — A company building a contested $3 billion pipeline to carry natural gas from northeastern Pennsylvania to Southern states has been granted key permits for construction.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday approved water-crossing permits for Williams Natural Gas company’s Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a dredging permit Tuesday.

A spokesman for Williams said the company will immediately ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a notice to proceed with construction.

Climate activists, including a group of nuns, oppose the project and can challenge the permits. The nuns sued the federal government, arguing the pipeline violates land they consider sacred. They lost their bid to prevent the company from getting easement rights to the property but they could appeal.