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The Bush administration has until May 15 to decide whether polar bears should be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a federal judge has ruled. The listing could impact emerging oil and natural gas development in U.S. Arctic waters. U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken of the Northern District of California issued the order in Case No. C 08-1339 (Center for Biological Diversity, et al., v. Dirk Kempthorne, U.S. Secretary of the Interior; and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Noting that "timeliness is essential," the order was issued without oral argument. The lawsuit was filed after the Bush administration missed several deadlines this year to make a decision about the possible ESA listing (see Daily GPI, March 11). The Department of Interior (DOI) had requested a delay until June 30, which Wilken rejected. Environmental groups petitioned to have polar bears listed as an endangered species under the ESA in 2005. In early 2007 the DOI proposed a rule, published in the Federal Register, to list the polar bear as a "threatened" species, and public hearings followed in Alaska and Washington, DC. At DOI's request, the U.S. Geological Survey completed a report on polar bear habitat in the United States, which included data on arctic climate and sea ice trends. Following additional public hearings on the report, DOI announced on Jan. 7 that final listing would occur within 30 days. The government contends that waiting longer to consider the ESA listing would not pose a threat to the bears because the species is already protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). However, Wilken noted that the ESA protections "far surpass" those under the MMPA because the ESA also protects a species habitat. A DOI official said the agency is reviewing Wilken's decision.

Dallas-based Stream Energy has started enrolling customers in Georgia after the state's Public Services Commission approved the company to provide natural gas in areas within the Atlanta Gas Light service area, including Atlanta, Savannah, Macon, Athens, Rome, Valdosta, Augusta and Brunswick. The company said Georgia is an important first step in its long-range plan to take its successful business and marketing plan to other states. Since Stream Energy began operations in Texas in 2005 it has signed up more than 300,00 customers there. Through the company's "Friends and Family" approach, Stream Energy's wholly owned Ignite marketing arm empowers independent associates to sign up customers.

Independent oil and gas exploration and development firm Domestic Energy Corp. said it plans to become one of the early participants in the new Chattanooga Shale natural gas development on the Cumberland plateau in Tennessee. The company said it will initially focus on acquiring existing wells and shale leases before beginning the construction of a gas gathering system and will eventually put the newly acquired and drilled wells into production for oil and gas. Domestic Energy expects to acquire several hundred of approximately 1,000 abandoned and shut-in gas wells in Tennessee. Domestic Energy president Larry Hillabrandt, citing a report that Consol Energy Inc had initial production of 3.9 MMcf/d at a horizontal well in the region last year, said his company believes the Chattanooga Shale "will prove to be as economically productive as the Barnett Shale and the Marcellus Shale."

In the wake of an Aug. 21, 2004 gas explosion in Sandy Township, PA, that destroyed a home and left two residents dead, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has modified a previous $80,000 settlement with National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp. (NFG), bumping it up to $150,000. The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the motion of PUC Chairman Wendell F. Holland to modify the joint settlement between PUC's prosecutory staff and NFG. The joint settlement reflected a $50,000 civil penalty and directed the company to fund $30,000 in safety-related activities to its system (see Daily GPI, March 17). As part of the new motion, and in lieu of a $50,000 civil penalty, NFG will be required to direct $100,000 to the company's Neighbor for Neighbor Heat Fund and spend $50,000 to fund safety related activities for its system. "The Neighbor for Neighbor Heat Fund is a voluntary program designed to provide assistance to qualifying individuals who require aid to meet basic energy needs," said Holland. "Directing $100,000 to this program will help prevent customers from being disconnected, give them assistance to help pay their overdue bills or allow them to purchase heating fuel or repair heating equipment." The tentative order follows an informal investigation of the gas explosion at 48 Woodland Lane in Sandy Township, Clearfield County. The explosion resulted from a leak in a gas line. As a result, NFG has committed to system improvements that exceed $1.8 million and has agreed to address recommendations and ensure the overall safety and reliability of its distribution system by modifying its operating procedures and accelerating the plastic pipe leakage survey of its Pennsylvania system. The company has also retrained and tested its plastic fusion work crew members. The tentative order will become final by mid-May.

In order to satisfy the growing residential and commercial natural gas demand in the Greater Boston metropolitan region, Spectra Energy subsidiary Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC said late Wednesday it has filed an application with FERC on a $35 million expansion that will enhance and extend its current pipeline system. Known as the J-2 Loop project, the expansion will provide volume and pressure support to the NSTAR Gas Co. local distribution company serving the area. Algonquin said the J-2 Loop project will help NSTAR continue to meet current residential and commercial needs, while accommodating future demands for natural gas. "In responding to our customers' requirements, we're able to increase the reliability of our system in the Greater Boston area with a limited amount of new pipeline," said Bob Riga, general manager of Northeast marketing, Spectra Energy Transmission. The proposed project will include the installation of approximately two miles of 14-inch diameter pipeline in the Greater Boston communities of Medford and Somerville, MA. To minimize impacts, a significant portion of the J-2 Loop project is expected to be constructed within existing right-of-way, along roadways and paved parking areas. The project is expected to begin operations in the fall of 2009.

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