FERC has to consider cumulative pipeline effects

Would this U.S. Court of Appeals ruling mean FERC needs to consider the cumulative effects of the proposed Sabal Trail pipeline on the same properties as the existing SONAT pipeline? And what about those LNG export authorizations FERC has repeatedly claimed it knows nothing about? And how can FERC justify that project at all, given that solar power is faster, cheaper, and far less environmentally damaging?

Katie Colaneri wrote for NPR 6 June 2014, Court rules federal regulators must consider cumulative impacts of pipeline project,

Regulators violated federal law by not considering the cumulative environmental impacts of multiple upgrades to a natural gas pipeline that runs from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, a federal appeals court said on Friday.

Three environmental groups argued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should not have been allowed to conduct an environmental review for one expansion project on the Tennessee Gas Pipeline without considering three other proposed upgrades on the same line.

The U.S. Court of Appeals agreed.

The judges ruled that FERC failed “to include any meaningful analysis of the cumulative impacts of the upgrade projects.” The judges also found that by segmenting the environmental review process, FERC violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Delaware Riverkeeper Maya Van Rossum said the result was a weaker assessment of the total environmental impacts of the project. By conducting separate reviews, she said, FERC avoided preparing a more comprehensive environmental impact statement.

“One fourth of a pie is going to have a whole lot less calories. The whole pie is really going to fatten you up.”

The court has sent the project back to FERC for further review.

The ruling by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals 6 June 2014 in No. 13-1015, DELAWARE RIVERKEEPER NETWORK, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION, RESPONDENT, says in part:

Petitioners contend that FERC violated NEPA when it segmented its review of the Northeast Project, giving no consideration to that project in conjunction with the three other connected, contemporaneous, closely related, and interdependent Eastern Leg projects. Petitioners also claim that FERC failed to provide a meaningful analysis of the cumulative impacts of these projects to show that the impacts would be insignificant.

FERC argues that because each project resulted in a measurable increase in the pipeline’s overall capacity, the agency was justified in completing the NEPA analysis of the Northeast Project separately from the other projects. But FERC’s position cannot be squared with the record, which shows that by May 2012, when FERC issued the certificate for the Northeast Project, it was clear that the entire Eastern Leg was included in a complete overhaul and upgrade that was physically, functionally, and financially connected and interdependent. During the pendency of Tennessee Gas’s Northeast Project application, the other three projects that would constitute the revamped Eastern Leg were either under construction or were also pending before the Commission for environmental review and approval. Given the self-evident interrelatedness of the projects as well as their temporal overlap, the Commission was obliged to consider the other three other Tennessee Gas pipeline projects when it conducted its NEPA review of the Northeast Project.

I’d imagine this court case pending has something to do with why FERC is doing an Environmental Impact Statement for all three of Williams Transco’s Hillabee Expansion Project, Spectra and FPL’s Sabal Trail Transmission pipeline, and FPL’s Florida Southeast Connection. If we could see the RFP and proposals for the environmental contractor that FERC has twice refused to divulge, maybe we’d know more about that.

We do know that there was one LNG export operation (Crowley Maritime‚Äôs Carib Energy) already authorized before those three pipeline projects even applied to FERC and two more (Floridian LNG (FLiNG) and Goven) before FERC held its Scoping Meetings. That’s three LNG authorizations for right where that triple Southeast Market Pipelines Project goes in Florida. Yet FERC repeatedly told people at those Scoping Meetings that FERC knew nothing about LNG export related to that pipeline.

How can anyone not see “the self-evident interrelatedness of the projects as well as their temporal overlap”? Are all these LNG export projects unrelated to FERC’s assertion that:

Through a series of phased compressor station expansions, the capacity of the Sabal Trail Project would increase to 1.1 million Dth/d by 2021.

Can anyone not see the interrelatedness of the environmental and economic effects of cramming yet another pipeline onto the same property with the SONAT pipeline or an FPL power line? Yet FERC has given no sign of considering those cumulative effects, either.

Petitioners in the recent court case specifically mentioned existing gas projects, New Jersey Highlands Coalition, the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, 21 December 2011, Comments on Environmental Assessment of the Northeast Upgrade Project, Docket No. CP11-161-000,

Remarkably, the EA fails to assess the additive effect of the Project together with the effects of existing or reasonably foreseeable gas development activities in the Project area, including the impacts of gas exploration and production and the construction and operation of well pads, access roads, gathering lines, compressor stations, and other infrastructure. Instead, the Commission staff merely acknowledges “general development of the Marcellus Shale” upstream activities, specifically but inadequately addresses existing wells and gathering systems, and ultimately dismisses upstream activities as “outside the scope of [the cumulative impacts] analysis because the exact location, scale, and timing of future facilities are unknown.” EA at 2-125. Additionally, Commission staff argues that “the potential cumulative impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling activities are not sufficiently causally related to the Project to warrant the comprehensive consideration of those impacts in this EA.”

Those petitioners concentrated on the cumulative effects of input to the proposed pipeline, which FERC has also refused to take into account regarding the Sabal Trail project, even though Spectra Energy brags about them in “Our Strong Portfolio of Assets”. And what about the cumulative effects of the already-authorized LNG export projects right at the end of the Transco -> Sabal -> FSC triple pipeline? The “exact location, scale, and timing” of at least three LNG export operations are already known. Those things are certainly known for the 1950s SONAT pipeline. Yet FERC does not appear to be considering any of those cumulative effects.

While FERC made no official comment on this court ruling, NPR reports about the same FERC Commissioner who pushed LNG exports before FERC’s own House oversight subcommittee and who used to be a Public Service Commissioner in fracking North Dakota:

Speaking at a shale industry conference in Pittsburgh on Thursday, one of the four FERC commissioners cautioned against “wrong-headed interpretations of existing [federal] statutes, such as NEPA regulations.”

Commissioner Tony Clark said opponents will often try “to use the permitting process to delay and stall projects that are otherwise absolutely in the public interest or perfectly safe and need to be built.”

Clark was a featured speaker at the DUG East conference in Pittsburgh 3-5 June 2014. According to Ian Hicks in the Wheeling News-Register 5 June 2014, Clark Boasts About Energy,

Thanks to the development of vast natural gas reserves, American energy independence is no longer a pipe dream, according to Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Tony Clark—but the nation must focus on developing its infrastructure to make it happen.

Gouging through wetlands and private property to the sea for export isn’t a path to energy independence: it’s a path to destruction of the Bill of Rights and construction of terrorist targets. Real energy independence is within our grasp through deployment of solar power, which can be done on half the acreage of the Transco -> Sabal -> FSC project, faster, for less money, with far less environmental effects, bringing local jobs right where they are needed. FERC hasn’t adequately considered that most basic cumulative effect, either: solar power has become less expensive than natural gas, so there’s no need for any new pipeline, and thus no excuse for eminent domain to implement it.

I wonder what would happen if somebody used this precedent and tested in court FERC’s lacks of consideration of the cumulative effects of the pre-existing SONAT pipeline, of fracking to get the methane, of already-authorized LNG export projects, and of faster, cheaper, and far less environmentally-damaging solar power on the Southeast Market Pipelines Project?


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