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FERC Updates Guidance For Environmental Reporting on NatGas Projects

This month, FERC issued a draft update to its Guidance Manual for Environmental Report Preparation for applicants seeking project approval under the Natural Gas Act, with some notable additions since the manual was last updated in 2002.

The updated 238-page manual, which guides applicants in supplying the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with useful information to conduct project reviews in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), includes new language and example tables advising applicants on how to look at a project’s cumulative impacts.

One updated section offers a detailed discussion on assessing cumulative impacts as they pertain to NEPA compliance and advises applicants that their “analysis must describe cumulative impacts that would potentially result from implementation of the proposed project along with other projects within the geographic and temporal scopes identified for each resource.”

FERC also updated the manual to include new language on assessing a project’s likely greenhouse gas emissions and its impacts on climate change.

An attached table advises project applicants to consider how “emissions resulting from the proposed project, in combination with past and future emissions from other project sources, would increase the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases and contribute incrementally to climate change,” though it adds that “it cannot be determined whether or not the project’s contribution to cumulative impacts on climate change would be significant.”

FERC simultaneously released a separate draft section of its manual with additional guidance for liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility resource reports. The commission will be accepting comments on the draft updates through Jan. 19.

The updates come amid what FERC commissioners have described as a period of “heightened infrastructure opposition” coinciding with an uptick in interstate natural gas pipeline project applications (see Daily GPI, Dec. 1).

In October, a coalition of environmental groups and pipeline opponents called on FERC to conduct a regional, programmatic review of all of the recently proposed projects in the Appalachian region to assess the collective cumulative impacts (see Shale Daily, Nov. 2).

Commissioner Tony Clark told the House Energy and Power Subcommittee this month that much of the increased pipeline opposition FERC has seen seems to stem from “opposition to all infrastructure as a matter of ideology,” suggesting the pipeline protests are motivated by concerns over climate change and the increased burning of fossil fuels.

Kevin Ewing, a veteran energy attorney and partner at Washington, DC, law firm Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, told NGI via email that “while there are differences between the earlier and the newer guidance documents, what’s most notable is the continuity between them.”

Though the language on cumulative impacts does appear to reflect some of the concerns raised by green groups, Ewing suggested FERC is likely to continue conducting environmental reviews under NEPA using a similar methodology to what it’s used in the past.

“With respect to the cumulative impacts, there’s no sea change here for gas pipelines, and none would be expected in light of the Commission’s (and staff’s) longstanding focus on its NEPA responsibilities,” Ewing said.

One year ago, the White House Council on Environmental Quality released updated and expanded draft guidance on how federal agencies should consider GHG emissions and climate change when weighing development under the NEPA (see Daily GPI, Dec. 19, 2014).

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