FERC staff gives Columbia pipelines environmental clearance despite 'significant' impacts
- Staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued favorable environmental impact statements for Columbia Gas Transmission's proposed Mountaineer and Gulf Xpress natural gas projects last week, despite finding the potential for significant and adverse environmental impacts.
- The staff outlined steps the company could take in order to move forward with the natural gas projects, including more than 30 specific mitigation measures. The projects would ship natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale plays in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio to customers in Northeast and Southeast.
- A final decision on the pipelines cannot be issued until FERC has at least three sitting regulators. The commission has been without quorum since February, stalling up to $14 billion in pipeline projects.
FERC staff expressed concerns natural gas projects proposed by Columbia Gas Transmission, concluding they would result in "some adverse and significant environmental impacts" without proper environmental mitigation.
But the projects can move forward if they are "constructed and operated in accordance with applicable laws and regulations, the mitigation measures discussed in the EIS, and staff’s recommendations, these impacts would be reduced to acceptable levels," according to a press release.
The Mountaineer Xpress project would construct roughly 170 miles of pipeline in West Virginia and ship 2.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The Gulf Xpress project would build seven new compressor stations in Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi, and include upgrades to existing meter and compression stations.
The Mountaineer and Gulf Xpress projects would transport natural gas from the shale-rich Marcellus and Utica plays to the Southeast.
These projects are the latest in a number of proposals aiming to boost the flow of natural gas within the United States. Two of them, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline, have met with significant backlash from environmental groups and landowners in recent months, and citizen opposition to gas pipelines has stalled development throughout New England in recent years.
With the EIS reports issued, the Columbia Gas pipelines will enter a lengthy queue of energy projects waiting for approval from the under-staffed FERC. The agency has been without a quorum since February after Chairman Norman Bay resigned. Commissioner Colette Honorable also departed at the end of June when her term wrapped up, leaving acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur as the sole sitting regulator.
Two of President Trump's Republican nominees, Pennsylvania regulator Robert Powelson and Senate aide Neil Chatterjee, await confirmation from the full Senate after favorable committee votes in June. Two others, Democratic Senate aide Richard Glick and Republican lawyer Steve McIntyre, have yet to be officially nominated by the president. It remains unclear when the nominees could face a confirmation vote from the full Senate.
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