An audit by the Department of Energy's (DOE) inspector general (IG) uncovered "no concerns that called into question the appropriateness" of decisions made through FERC's natural gas certification process, but it identified four areas needing improvement.
"During our review of the overall certification process and a sample of closed natural gas applications, nothing came to our attention to indicate that FERC had not performed its due diligence in reviewing and making determinations on natural gas certification applications based on a consideration of the public benefits and adverse impacts of the proposed projects," the IG's office said in an audit report.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission "generally adhered to an internally established timeliness performance measure...[and] addressed stakeholder concerns by obtaining, considering and aggregating stakeholder input throughout the natural gas certification process."
However, four areas were identified for improvement, which DOE said could aid FERC to more efficiently and effectively manage its natural gas certification process: process transparency, public access to FERC records, tracking stakeholder comments, and data integrity.
FERC could upgrade its process transparency by improving the information included on its website or in the landowner pamphlet distributed to the public, according to the report.
"The absence of sufficient information on how the process works may hinder stakeholders' ability to fully participate in the process and may have not met the intent of the transparency requirements established by Executive Order 13604," which was implemented by the Obama administration in 2012 to improve federal permitting and review of infrastructure projects, DOE said.
The audit also found that the design of the public interface to FERC's document repository, eLibrary, and the lack of publicly available training could limit stakeholder's ability to assess FERC policies and documents related to project applications.
The Commission lacks controls to track and address stakeholder comments, according to the IG report.
"Specifically, while we observed that FERC was obtaining, considering and aggregating stakeholder comments throughout the natural gas certification process, we found that FERC did not have documented processes or a consistent methodology for tracking the disposition of stakeholder comments regarding proposed natural gas projects…
“The lack of a consistent methodology could increase the risk that FERC may not address significant and impactful public comments in the environmental document or final order."
Finally, the audit identified data integrity issues with FERC's workload tracking systems, which are used to track information about natural gas certification applications and to respond to inquiries.
While the IG's office found concerns with the completeness, accuracy and consistency of data extracted from the system, it found no indication "that this prohibited FERC from meeting its key milestones or completing its overall processing" of applications that were reviewed.
FERC officials concurred with the report's recommendations and said the Commission had either initiated or planned corrective actions to address issues identified in the report, DOE said. Plans include modernizing the FERC website, improving the eLibrary search features, and providing stakeholder user guides.
"I appreciate your feedback to our processes and your suggestions to make them more transparent and navigable to our stakeholders and the general public," FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre said in a letter to DOE's Office of Inspector General included in the audit report.