Construction of the Southeast Supply Header project (SESH), a 270-mile pipeline to connect the Perryville Hub in northeast Louisiana with Gulfstream Natural Gas near Mobile County, AL, could be delayed by efforts to relocate gopher tortoises, a threatened species that lives in burrows across the deep South from Louisiana to South Carolina.

On Aug. 10 FERC staff issued a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the pipeline, which will carry up to 1.14 Bcf/d to Florida and other southeastern markets.

The FEIS concluded that if the project is found to be in the public convenience and necessity and is constructed and operated in accordance with the impact minimization and mitigation measures proposed by the project sponsors, as well as additional mitigation recommendations by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the project for the most part would have limited adverse environmental impacts. The one area where there would be an adverse impact is in a conversion of about five acres of forested wetland. "However, our evaluation concluded that the impact would be substantive, but not significant and is environmentally acceptable," FERC staff said.

FERC Commissioners will take into consideration staff's recommendations and the FEIS when they make decisions on the project.

Last week CenterPoint and Spectra asked FERC to issue the certificate for the project ahead of its normal 30-day schedule. In a letter sent to FERC Monday, CenterPoint's Byron Kelley, writing on behalf of the two companies, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requires the relocation of all tortoises found in the right-of-way before construction can commence and before Oct. 15, the end of gopher tortoise eggs' incubation period. The number of tortoises to be relocated is not yet known, but Kelley said the relocation project could take four to six weeks -- if the weather is good. Construction will have to be delayed until April 1, the beginning of the gopher tortoise's breeding season, if the relocation project is not completed by mid-October. Sticking to FERC's traditional timeline would mean SESH would not receive its certificate until approximately Sept. 17, and might not have enough time to complete the relocation.

"Allowing for a few days to put the relocation plan before FERC, SESH would likely have only about four weeks remaining to complete the gopher tortoise relocation," Kelley wrote to FERC. "Obviously, if it turns out that the relocation effort requires six weeks to complete, SESH will be forced to terminate tortoise relocation efforts this fall, and defer completion of construction on those portions of the route until after April 1, 2008." Such a delay would add at least two months to the project, currently slated to be completed in June 2008, Kelley said.

"Clearly, such a delay will result in this project failing to contribute to meeting the full summer peak period demand for gas for power generation," Kelly said.

Customers signed up for capacity on SESH include Florida Power and Light, Progress Energy, Southern Co., Tampa Electric and EOG Resources. The new line would tap supplies from the Barnett Shale and Bossier Sands, as well as regasified liquefied natural gas coming into the Gulf Coast. The proposed line is sponsored in part by Southern Natural Gas and subsidiaries of CenterPoint Energy and Spectra Energy.

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