Environmental groups have asked a federal court to order FERC to vacate its authorization for the proposed Alaska liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, arguing the Commission did not adequately review the development’s environmental impacts.

In a petition filed last week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (DC), the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “shirked” its obligation “to take a hard look at the project’s harmful environmental impacts at nearly every turn” in compiling the environmental impact statement (EIS) that informed the 2020 authorization.

The CBD filed the petition on behalf of itself and other groups including the Sierra Club and Earthjustice. 

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The estimated $38.7 billion Alaska LNG project is being pursued by state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corp. (AGDC). It would transport stranded North Slope natural gas via a new 807-mile pipeline to a liquefaction terminal on Alaska’s southern coast. It is authorized to export 20 million metric tons/year (2.55 Bcf/d).

AGDC spokesperson Tim Fitzpatrick told NGI the CBD’s request was misguided. “The environmental benefits of replacing coal, diesel and wood as energy and heat sources in Asia and Interior Alaska with clean natural gas are clear,” he said. “This request to FERC is misguided and counter to widely accepted climate priorities.”

In particular, the CBD said while FERC determined the project would increase Alaska’s annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30-47%, the Commission failed to evaluate the potential impacts of the higher GHG levels. The CBD also said FERC “entirely ignored the indirect greenhouse gas emissions caused by the project’s commercialization of currently isolated Arctic gas,” which it said was a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

In addition, the center said the commission did not consider in detail any alternatives to the project, including the impact of taking no action on the proposal. 

“The EIS concludes that all alternatives to the project either would not fulfill the project’s purposes, would not be feasible, or would not offer significant environmental advantages over the corporation’s proposal,” according to the filing. “As a result, FERC analyzed only the project in detail. FERC also did not consider a no action alternative in detail.” 

Rather, FERC claimed that if it selected the no action alternative, the Alaska LNG developer or other applicants would likely develop another project to transport gas from the North Slope for export and in-state delivery. Emissions from that project would likely be comparable to those from the Alaska LNG project, and thus, a no action decision would have provided no significant environmental advantage, FERC reasoned.

However, the plaintiffs argued that FERC’s reasoning was shaky, since such a project would be a massive undertaking and still subject to the commission’s evaluations anyway.

“There is no factual support for FERC’s conclusion that even if it were to choose the no action alternative for the project, a similar project featuring both export and in-state delivery would likely be developed,” it said.

Further, FERC did not properly consider the project’s impact on critically endangered Cook Inlet Beluga whales and on wetland habitats, the CBD said. 

The news comes amid heightened scrutiny of the environmental impacts of LNG projects in the United States. In July, the Department of Energy said it would prepare a supplemental EIS for Alaska LNG. The analysis would evaluate potential environmental impacts associated with natural gas production on the North Slope and a life-cycle analysis calculating the GHG emissions for LNG exported from the proposed project.

And last month, the DC appeals court ordered FERC to review its authorizations for two planned LNG export facilities in Texas. Circuit Judge Robert Wilkins wrote in the court’s decision that FERC’s environmental analyses for the developments had been deficient.The facilities in question, NextDecade Corp.’s Rio Grande LNG and an associated pipeline, and the privately owned Texas LNG development, received FERC authorization in 2019. Neither has reached a final investment decision.