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Western Senators Introduce Bill to Expedite Pipes, Reduce Flaring

Three U.S. senators from fossil fuel-rich North Dakota and Wyoming introduced legislation Wednesday to combat associated natural gas flaring at the wellhead on federal and Native American lands.

The Natural Gas Gathering Enhancement Act would expedite the permitting of gas gathering pipeline systems on the federal and Native lands, aiming to get the associated gas supplies to processing plants.

The Republican-backed measure is expected to draw criticism and/or opposition from Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration because of some of its environmental waivers.

Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and John Hoeven (R-ND) said their proposed law, among other things, would provide a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for certain gas gathering pipelines located on federal lands (excluding National Park System, National Wildlife Refuge System and National Wilderness Preservation System lands).

It also would allow projects with categorical NEPA exclusions to get rights-of-way approvals from the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture within 30 days.

Calling the proposal a win for state and federal budgets, Barrasso said the proposed act would "reduce unnecessary flaring and help energy companies safely capture and sell more natural gas. States like Wyoming are making strides in reducing the flaring during oil production, and it's time for Congress to do the same."

Hoeven, from North Dakota where flaring reached record levels most recently (see Shale Daily, March 5), said the proposed law can serve as an example of how more energy can be produced with better environmental protections while still "empowering states and tribes to develop their energy resources. North Dakota set a goal of reducing flaring in the state by more than 60% in six years [see Shale Daily, Jan. 30], and this legislation helps accomplish that goal."

Enzi said he sees part of the flaring problem coming from the government's slow permitting processes for gas gathering pipeline systems. "American energy is ready to power our country if Washington would just get out of the way," he said. "This legislation is a step in that direction."

Under the legislation the longest time that any gathering system permitting process should take is 60 days.

The proposed law would not affect an existing law that requires the consent of Native American tribes or individuals prior to the approval of rights-of-way.

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