FERC has been asked to reconsider a recommendation concerning endangered sea turtles in its environmental assessment (EA) of Enbridge Inc.’s Valley Crossing Pipeline LLC project, a 1,000-foot crossing that would link delivery for up to 2.6 Bcf/d to Mexico power plants.

Last November Valley Crossing requested authorization from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for its 1,000-foot Border Crossing Project. Gas pipeline facilities in Texas waters in the Gulf of Mexico are to connect the Valley Crossing system with the Sur de Texas-Tuxpan pipeline, which is designed deliver up to 2.6 Bcf/d to power plants owned by the Comision Federal de Electricidad [CP17-19]. The targeted in-service date for the border crossing project is Oct. 31, 2018.

In June, FERC issued an EA for the border crossing project, concluding that the project’s approval, “with appropriate mitigation measures, would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”

In its response to the EA, Valley Crossing in a letter sent Monday (July 31) took exception to a FERC recommendation regarding compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).FERC staff indicated in the EA that the border crossing project “may affect, but is not likely to adversely impact, sea turtles that are protected under the ESA.”

In Recommendation No. 12 of the EA, the Commission recommended that any order granting authorization “include a condition that Valley Crossing not begin construction until Commission staff receives comments from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) regarding the proposed action, and Valley Crossing receives written notification from the Director of the Office of Energy Projects that construction or use of mitigation may begin.”

The recommendation is related to a variety of sea turtles, including the endangered Kemp’s ridley turtle, which nest on a narrow stretch of beach on the Mexico coast and on Padre Island National Seashore in South Texas. All sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed under the ESA, which provides similar protections to threatened and endangered sea turtles.

A biological assessment (BA), prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was not available to FERC staff before the EA was issued, according to Valley Crossing.

FERC’s EA indicated the border project “may affect” sea turtle species protected under the ESA, but that conclusion “contrasts sharply with the Corps of Engineers’ BA and its determination of no-effect,” Valley Crossing officials said. “There, the Corps of Engineers had no obligation to consult with NMFS given its ‘no effect’ determination regarding marine species within NMFS’ jurisdiction.

“Similarly, for the Border Crossing Project, the Commission has before it a record (including the Corps of Engineers’ BA and no effects determination), and it is upon this record that the Commission can base its own no effect determination for the 1,000-foot segment of pipeline that is subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction.”

If the Commission were to make such a finding, “Recommendation No. 12, and consultation with NMFS, would be unnecessary,” Valley Crossing officials said.

As outlined in the BA, Valley Crossing plans to implement best management practices, which include avoiding construction during the peak period of nesting activity for sea turtles, from May through July. It also plans to follow measures provided by NMFS issued in 2006 that include placing sea turtle monitors during construction activities; modifying construction to protect turtles if one is observed within 100 yards of construction activity; and further modifying activities, including ceasing operations of any moving equipment within 50 feet of an observed sea turtle, and not resuming activities until the sea turtle leaves the area on its own volition.