Williams CEO Alan Armstrong Tuesday called on the natural gas industry to join the fight against the Sierra Club's challenge to the pipeline stream crossings rule that threatens construction of pipeline projects across the country.

He asked the industry to "start paying attention" to a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club challenging the Corps of Engineers' general permit rule on stream crossings for pipeline construction. "Those things are going to be big. They're bigger than just causing a delay. They are big enough to really stop us from being able to use natural gas as a resource because the utilities and power generators...don't have the luxury of sitting back and waiting to see if the industry wins these fights," Armstrong told the Natural Gas Roundtable in Washington, DC.

The electric side has to "make decisions today about what [they're] going to use for their power generation source, and when they see things like that [Sierra Club complaint], they're going to say, 'OK, I told you we couldn't rely on natural gas.' So I ask you to really pay close attention to this," he said.

"And realize that if you're on the production end or if you're on the consumption end of this, you better understand that the expense of that infrastructure can impose volatility into these markets that can wreck a tremendous opportunity." Following the roundtable, Armstrong was scheduled to meet with a White House staffer to discuss the issue.

"The Corps has historically had what they call a general permit for stream crossings that [involved] limited damage...As long as [a] stream crossing was minimal in impact, they allowed the states to basically oversee that and they didn't have to have any further review...and things went very quickly and very smoothly," he said.

The complaint filed by the Sierra Club in the U.S. District Court in Beaumont, TX, contends that a "pipeline project crosses many streams and therefore has to be viewed in sum," and "so no matter how far apart those streams are, they have to be aggregated [to determine] impact."

Sierra Club is challenging whether the general permit rule would apply to a pipeline project that crosses multiple streams. The challenge was raised in connection with the Cushing, OK- to-Port Arthur, TX portion of the Keystone Pipeline, a Sierra Club spokesman said.

"It's [getting] things completely balled up right now," Armstrong said. "A lot of these environmentalist groups that are opposing the development of natural gas have determined that they can't do a lot about stopping somebody from drilling on their own private land, but it's a whole lot easier to attack a linear project that's got to cross public lands, got to cross streams, got to cross roads [and] got to cross federal lands.

"So that is where they're attacking [the industry]. Keystone Pipeline is a great example of that. We [in the gas industry] are going to see that in a big way as we start to develop natural gas infrastructure in the U.S."

As a result of opposition from environmental groups and state-federal regulatory overlaps, Armstrong said a small pipeline that Williams was building in Northeast Pennsylvania, which had a wall thickness of one-half inch, turned out to be two and a half times more costly to lay than a deepwater pipeline with a wall thickness of 1 and three-quarter inch.

The higher cost was due to the "lack of cooperation [among the parties], the amount of jurisdictional overlaps, the amount of redos [and] the amount of stop and starts...And guess who's going to wind up paying for that? It's going to be the consumer," he said.

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