The third and final leg of the $4 billion Rockies Express Pipeline, which has been targeted for in-service in January 2009, could be delayed for six months or more if the FERC schedule for environmental review of the project is not moved up, project sponsors told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Rockies Express-East (REX-East) has called on FERC to revise its schedule to provide for an earlier release of the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) and final environmental impact statement (FEIS). FERC has scheduled the DEIS for the 639-mile leg, which would extend from Audrain County, MO, to Clarington, OH, to be issued on Jan. 4, 2008, and the FEIS to be issued on May 2. Based on that schedule, a FERC decision can be expected around July 31 of next year.

The sponsors of REX-East, however, are pressing FERC to release the DEIS by the end of November and complete the FEIS in March 2008, clearing the way for a FERC certificate by April 2008. This would allow REX-East to begin construction in the second quarter of 2008 and place the last leg of the pipeline in service by Jan. 1, 2009, the date that is currently anticipated by Rocky Mountain producers and the natural gas market.

The pipeline sponsors met with FERC staff in late September to discuss REX-East's concerns. "It appeared that a modified schedule -- which would address Rockies Express's concerns, meet the Commission's obligations under the National Environmental [Policy] Act and accommodate the practical realities of the construction schedule -- was within reach," REX-East said in a post-meeting filing at the agency.

In a published summary of the meeting, FERC staff said it "would work with them [REX-East] to determine if they could fulfill all NEPA requirements, at a level satisfactory with the Commission's requirements, within a time frame that would also help alleviate some of Rockies Express's concerns."

Because a lot of comments are expected on the DEIS, "the time allotted...between the DEIS and FEIS should remain similar to that published in the scheduling notice" for REX-East, agency staff said. If the DEIS is published earlier than stated in the scheduling notice, "there must be ample opportunity for the public to comment during the 45-day comment period, prior to the holidays; all major issues would need to be resolved; Rockies Express would need to submit outstanding data earlier than previously specified; and the DEIS would likely contain more conditions than other typical DEISs," staff noted.

Without changes to the schedule, REX-East said it seriously doubted that it could complete the project by the 2008-2009 winter heating season. The project in all likelihood would be interrupted due to construction limitations during the winter, it noted.

"Producers in the Rocky Mountains would be required to shut in their gas for another complete heating season. On the demand side, consumers in Midwest and eastern markets would be unable to gain the market benefit of additional, competing sources of gas."

The pipeline said it also was concerned that it would lose contractors who currently are working on the REX-West leg of the line if the construction of the REX-East segment is pushed back. The REX-West segment, which extends from the Cheyenne Hub in Colorado to Audrain County in Missouri, is on schedule to be completed by January 2008. "There would be a high probability...that Rockies Express would lose a majority of its current work force on REX-West to other projects" if REX-East construction is delayed.

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