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NatGas Groups Caution FERC Against Expanding Scope of Environmental Reviews

A pair of natural gas industry trade groups urged FERC not to expand its environmental reporting requirements for project applicants as it updates its guidelines.

The Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA) and the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas (CLNG) jointly filed comments with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Friday in response to recently proposed updates to the Commission’s Draft Guidance Manual for Environmental Report Preparation (see Daily GPI, Dec. 29, 2015). The revised 238-page manual, last updated more than a decade ago, contains new sections advising applicants on how to report on a project’s cumulative impacts, as well as on its likely greenhouse gas emissions, among other things.

In their comments, NGSA and CLNG cautioned FERC against language in its draft guidance manual that could be construed as expanding the scope of FERC’s project reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Noting that the draft guidance advises applicants to submit “information beyond the minimum filing requirements,” the trade groups said FERC should “clarify that its intent in specifying additional information to be included in natural gas infrastructure project reports is not to supplement or modify its regulations.”

This additional reporting could also stray from environmental reviews appropriate to the scope of the proposed action, they said.

“In certain instances, requiring inclusion of information through the Draft Guidance that goes beyond FERC’s regulations imposes a uniform burden on every project to provide an extensive checklist of information, whether it is relevant to a specific project or not,” they wrote, adding that “mandating information through the Draft Guidance that exceeds FERC’s regulations presents a serious risk of delaying the development of the natural gas infrastructure that will support states’ additional deployment of natural gas to comply with” greenhouse gas regulations.

The groups cautioned FERC against any prescriptive requirements for environmental reporting.

“We urge FERC to move away from any proposed one-size-fits-all approach in the Draft Guidance and hold true to its existing flexible approach that acknowledges that the information required to develop a complete application for one project may not be the same as that needed for another,” CLNG Executive Director Charlie Riedl said.

NGSA and CLNG said they support FERC’s “reasonable and legally sound approach to analyzing upstream production activities in the context of natural gas or LNG infrastructure projects,” namely that the Commission has so far held that the impacts of increased natural gas production are not generally applicable to an environmental review of a particular pipeline or LNG facility.

“As the Commission recently explained, proposed pipelines do not cause the environmental effects of natural gas production and the environmental effects are not reasonably foreseeable,” they wrote. “Further to the point on the issue of causation, FERC has appropriately described the market reality that economic conditions dictate that it is most likely that natural gas pipelines will follow natural gas production, rather than pipelines inducing production.”

These comments stand in contrast to the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent recommendation that FERC ask applicants to use a “conceptual level” Department of Energy study on U.S. natural gas exports to inform a project-specific analysis of potential environmental impacts from a project’s effect on upstream development (see Shale Daily, Jan. 21).

“FERC’s existing project review process is already extensive and thorough,” NGSA executive vice president Patricia Jagtiani said. “It is quite simply inconsistent with the goals of NEPA to include unquantifiable or speculative impacts since it does not provide decision-makers and the public with truly meaningful information for their review.”

FERC has said it plans to issue its final updated environmental reporting guidance early this year.

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