Tuesday, July 31, 2018

StateImpact: DEP, DCNR, DCED Submit Comments To FERC Critical Of Pipeline Review Process

StateImpact’s Marie Cusick Monday reported the departments of Environmental Protection,  Conservation and Natural Resources and Community and Economic Development submitted comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on July 25 (the last day for comments) making recommendations to improve that agency’s pipeline review process. (Docket No. PL18-1-000)
The comments, submitted as part of a public comment period established by FERC, noted Pennsylvania is at the “epicenter of the Marcellus and Utica shale formations” and “is at a critical inflection point regarding natural gas production, transmission and distribution.”
“We have over 10,000 unconventional wells, with over 8,000 of those producing natural gas at 14.5 billion cubic feet per day, or 5.3 trillion cubic feet per year. We currently account for 37 percent of total U.S. shale gas production.
“In the past five years alone, we have experienced over $10 billion in pipeline infrastructure investments in the Commonwealth. We anticipate additional transmission pipeline investments as the industry continues to mature.”
The agencies noted, “The buildout of the upstream natural gas drilling industry via transmission pipelines to markets well beyond Pennsylvania’s borders comprises a complex combination of environmental, natural resource, and economic concerns that merit critical attention from federal, state, and local agencies.”
In a more global comment, the agencies told FERC, “Pennsylvania is being marginalized in the development of interstate pipeline infrastructure within our own borders.
“We ask the Commission to consider longer-term, sustainable economic benefit to those host communities along the pipeline path through careful economic planning of natural gas delivery points that are identified as part of the application process to the Commission.”
The agencies provided 9 pages of comments on the 4 questions asked by FERC.  Among the comments were--
-- Potential Adjustments To FERC’s Determination Of Need
-- Include Local Benefits: In determining whether there is public need for a proposed project, the Commission should provide particularly attention and weight to whether the pipeline will provide local benefit in the states through which it will travel.
The Commission should examine—along the entire pathway of the pipeline—how the project provides benefit to local communities including: 1) access to natural gas; and 2) long-term resiliency and reliability of power.
Pennsylvania is currently being “built out” in a complex web of greenfield pipeline infrastructure with little consideration in the FERC process of how local communities will benefit other than the short term economic impact of temporary pipeline construction jobs and associated retail activity.
-- Intended Use Of Gas: The Commission should consider the intended end use of the natural gas in order to determine a resulting public need for the project. There should be a distinction in the FERC review process for those projects where there is a clear and compelling domestic need, and those projects where our natural gas resources are being exported to meet international demand.
-- Exercise Of Eminent Domain And Landowner Interests
-- Consider Public, Landowner Concerns: The Commission’s process does not adequately consider public and private landowner concerns related to tree clearing that may occur as a pre-construction activity prior to the Commission’s final approval of a pipeline project.
PADEP’s recommended approach would improve consideration of landowner interests in preventing unnecessary tree clearing and unnecessary impacts to public and private property, as well as protecting critical resource areas such as riparian buffers and forested wetlands.
Applicants must engage landowners of state lands and local conserved lands earlier in the FERC process to better understand their goals, objectives, and expectations. The landowner's review process should not be overshadowed or overridden by the FERC process and the desire to secure a certificate.
Landowners need clear and unambiguous reference standards regarding pipeline safety offsets from existing infrastructure as significant variations exists between applicants. This is critical information to landowners that are trying to minimize impacts on their property.
-- Incorporate Conditions In Certificate Of Need: The Commission should develop a mechanism to incorporate any necessary conditions, limitations or modifications related to additional environmental information gathered after the Commission’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, but before the Notice to Proceed, such as wetland field survey data gathered by the applicant after they have obtained access to the site.
-- FERC’s Consideration Of Environmental Impacts
-- Evaluate All Environmental Impacts, Including Alternatives, Externalities: The Commission should continue to comprehensively evaluate all environmental impacts from the project—including impacts from staging areas, contractor yards and access roads—working with and relying on input from state environmental and resource agencies.
This comprehensive evaluation should require consideration of alternatives to the proposed action, including alternative locations, routings or designs to avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts.
The Commission should also consider conducting a comprehensive analysis of externalities, including greenhouse gas emissions, to ensure minimal impact to the environment and public health.
-- Co-Location Of Routes: Pennsylvania believes that co-location of pipeline infrastructure is always preferred and should be required everywhere feasible. Many companies currently resist co-location for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment.
However, there should also be a socially and ecologically acceptable limit to corridor widths. The width of the corridor can sever habitat connectivity which is vital for the movement of plant and wildlife species.
-- Recognize All Forest Values: PADCNR believes that FERC should recognize that forests, especially those with large, contiguous acreage, provide both ecologic and economic benefits to citizens. The ecological services that forested areas provide are irreplaceable.
-- Longer-Term, Sustainable Economic Benefits: Pennsylvania is being marginalized in the development of interstate pipeline infrastructure within our own borders.
We ask the Commission to consider longer-term, sustainable economic benefit to those host communities along the pipeline path through careful economic planning of natural gas delivery points that are identified as part of the application process to the Commission.  
The Commission should strengthen its expectations and evaluation of “favorable economic benefits.”
It appears from various FERC applications for interstate transmission projects that originate and traverse through Pennsylvania that applicants are relying on short-term, non-sustainable economic benefits, such as increased construction work and retail trade to establish economic benefit.
When transmission infrastructure is constructed, access to the natural gas itself is the long-term economic benefit, but it is generally intended for other markets that are located further along the transmission pipeline itself.
-- Improvements To The Efficiency Of FERC’s Review Process
-- One Point Of Contact: PADEP, PADCNR, and PADCED recommend that the Commission continue to be an advocate for the process and not the project. The Commission should establish a point of contact (POC) with Pennsylvania and keep that POC current so that timely and effective communications are established during pre-filing, application review, and post authorization phases of the project review. In the past, our agencies have lacked the opportunity or otherwise received untimely notifications of proposed activities from misdirected notifications or other correspondence.
-- Co-Location: The Commission should consider incentives for projects that are co-located within existing rights-of-way, or otherwise demonstrating the avoidance of or limiting new areas for disturbance or avoidance of potential adverse impacts, loss, or degradation to waterbodies and wetlands.
-- No General Shortcuts: PADEP believes the blanket certificate shortened process is appropriate only for projects requiring maintenance-related modifications with disturbances that do not trigger federal or state environmental regulatory thresholds. The blanket certificate process could be improved by better communication and coordination between the Commission, a blanket certificate applicant/holder and state agencies.
Click Here to read the entire comment letter.
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