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NEPA Pre-Filing Reviews Initiated for Northern Natural, Overthrust Expansions

FERC has initiated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) pre-filing process for two key pipeline projects -- Northern Natural Gas Co.'s Northern Lights Expansion project in the Midwest and Overthrust Pipeline's proposed expansion of its system in Wyoming.

The so-called Northern Lights expansion is being described as a "multi-phase project" that is designed to meet the growing needs of Northern Natural's customers in the short term (over a two-year period), "while taking into consideration a long-term design to meet customer growth needs to 2026," according to FERC's Office of Energy Projects (OEP).

The project calls for the construction of about 80 miles of pipeline extensions and looping; approximately eight miles of new greenfield pipeline; replacement of three miles of three-inch diameter pipeline with 10-inch diameter pipe; modifications to four existing compressor stations; two new town border stations (TBS); the rebuild of two existing TBS facilities; and modifications to 26 existing TBS facilities [PF06-7]. With the exception of the greenfield pipeline, Northern Natural proposes to install the pipeline looping and extensions adjacent to existing pipelines.

The project, which would be located in counties in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, would provide an estimated incremental firm service of 350,000 to 400,000 Dth/d in Northern Natural's market area. Northern Natural, a subsidiary of MidAmerican Energy, said it expects to file a formal application on the project, which is in the preliminary design stage, in June 2006.

Separately, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission agreed to undertake a NEPA review of a proposed expansion of Overthrust Pipeline, a subsidiary of Questar Pipeline Co., to increase deliveries of Rocky Mountain gas to western markets. The Overthrust system runs east and west about 88 miles across southwestern Wyoming.

The project entails the construction of approximately 28 miles of 36-inch diameter pipeline and associated facilities that would interconnect the western part of Overthrust's existing system with Kern River Gas Transmission and with certain natural gas processing plants at Opal in Lincoln County, WY, according to Questar Pipeline [PF06-9]. The expansion would provide capacity to transport an additional 550,000 Dth/d, of which Overthrust said it has executed binding agreements for 320,000 Dth/d.

"Your [request] describes Overthrust's need to commence construction of its Opal Pipeline Project in September 2006. We believe that it is possible to coordinate with other agencies, complete the environmental review process and present our recommendations to the Commission in that time frame," the agency's OEP said in a letter last week to Questar Pipeline. But it advised the pipeline that FERC's ability to meet the schedule depended on Overthrust's commitment to resolve issues in the pre-filing process.

Overthrust told FERC that it plans to file an application for its Opal project by May 2006 at the latest. It noted that its customers have requested an in-service date of Jan. 1, 2007, which requires it to begin construction no later than Sept. 1, 2006.

Overthrust also has plans on the drawing board to expand the eastern end of its system by building a 77-mile extension to Wamsutter Hub in Sweetwater County, WY, and adding compression to allow gas to flow eastward, but that project is not part of the current pre-filing review, the pipeline said. This project would enable Overthrust to serve as a feeder from Opal to Wamsutter for the proposed 1,350-mile Rockies Express pipeline system, which is being undertaken by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP and Sempra Pipelines & Storage. The Rockies Express pipeline would carry Rockies gas east to Ohio and would be the largest pipe built in the U.S. in more than 20 years.

Overthrust indicated that it would have a better idea of the scope of its east-end project by March, at which time it may ask FERC to begin a NEPA pre-filing review of it.

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