Regulations governing the construction of natural gas pipelinefacilities took center stage at FERC yesterday, with the Commissionputting a package of proposals on the table aimed at streamliningand expediting the certification process for new projects. It seeksto do this while at the same time getting affected landowners moreinvolved in the process.
By an overwhelming majority, FERC commissioners voted out threecompanion measures-a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) thatoffered a number of “housekeeping” changes to FERC’s Part 157regulations [RM98-9]; a second NOPR that would give gas pipelinesthe option to engage in a collaborative process-with landowners,environmentalists et al-to resolve conflicts prior to filingapplications [RM98-16]; and a notice of a technical conference toaddress, among other things, FERC’s current landowner-notificationprocess [RM98-17].
All three efforts “will be important to the rational andappropriate expansion of pipeline capacity in the future consistentwith environmental requirements and landowners needs, and [they]will expedite our procedures…,” said Chairman James Hoecker.
He singled out the proposed use of the collaborative process forgas pipeline projects as “particularly important…because it hasas its goal the improvement of communication, enhancement of publicparticipation in our process, and the resolution of conflictsearly…” It would be modeled after the collaborative process thatalready is being used on the hydroelectric side for the relicensingof projects.
With hydroelectric projects, “you identify all the interestedparties-landowners, resource agencies and any other interested[persons] – and bring them together…to talk through what theissues are, to come to some common understanding about what studiesyou’re going to do, to try to work out the terms and conditionsunder which the project will re relicensed in an ‘informal,non-adversarial fashion’ before the application is filed,” a FERCstaff member explained.
“We’re had good success with it. We’ve probably got 30 hydroprojects that are using those processes now. It has significantlyaccelerated the time between when the application’s filed and whenthey issue [a] relicensing order, and we’ve avoided rehearings andcourt appeal,” he said.
Commissioner William Massey thinks the use of the collaborativeprocess to speed up the pipeline certification process “holds greatpromise and great potential,” and is “an idea that we shoulddefinitely explore.” But he conceded that it may not be appropriatein every pipeline case that comes before the Commission.
The staff member agreed the use of the collaborative processmight not work in certain cases due to the sheer volume oflandowners affected by some pipeline construction and the length ofsome proposed lines. “It may be that for a brand new long pipelineit isn’t very well suited to that,” he said, adding loopingprojects would be better candidates.
On a related issue, FERC plans to hold a technical conference inDecember to take a look at its policy for notifying landowners thatare affected by pipeline projects. The Commission’s action largelyis in response to mounting landowner dissatisfaction with the spateof pipeline projects that have been proposed. In addition, it comesin the wake of legislation proposed by Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN)that would require landowners to receive formal notification ofpipeline projects that could cross their property.
The NOPR proposing revisions to FERC’s Part 157 regulations”aren’t sexy, but…the combined effect, I think, will help usincrease the speed with which the Commission can processcertification application[s],” Massey said. He added a key changewas a proposal “to increase the spending limit on the constructionand acquisition of facilities that can be acted on by the directorof [the Office of Pipeline Regulation] from $5 million to over $19million.” The last time FERC raised the limit was in the mid-1980s.”So it’s certainly time to take a look at that again with inflationand all. And also [it’s] just a desire on our part to delegate morein that area…”
On a lesser note, the proposed rulemaking seeks to expand thescope of blanket certificates to allow pipelines to construct,operate, rearrange, replace or abandon more facilities than arecurrently covered. It would revise FERC rules to facilitateconstruction of receipt points; allow pipelines to construct andoperate temporary compression stations under a blanket certificate;and give the director of Office of Pipeline Regulation authorityto dismiss protests that fail to raise substantive issues.
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