FERC staff has issued a favorable draft environmental nod for the third and final leg of the proposed $4.4 billion, 1,678-mile Rockies Express Pipeline (REX) that will transport Rocky Mountain natural gas to Midwest and eastern markets.

The last leg, known as the REX-East segment, would extend 640 miles from Audrain County, MO, to Clarington, OH. Assuming it receives approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and other agencies, REX-East would have the capability to deliver 1.8 Bcf/d of natural gas, while providing access to an additional 16 interstate and intrastate pipelines through 20 interconnection points. REX-East is expected to begin interim service as early as Dec. 30, 2008, and to be fully operational by June 2009, according to Rockies Express.

“The Rockies Express East Project, with appropriate mitigating measures…would result in mostly limited adverse environmental impact,” staff concluded in the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on the project [CP07-208].

FERC hearings on the DEIS are set for early next year (Jan. 7-9) in nine different cities and four states affected by the construction of the REX-East project (Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio). Public comments on the DEIS are due at FERC by Jan. 14.

“The additional studies or field investigations that we recommend typically would result in site-specific mitigation and further reductions of impact; therefore, we are recommending that these mitigation measures be attached as conditions of any certificate issued by [FERC],” staff said in the DEIS. “We believe that the recommended mitigation measures would reduce potential environmental impacts from [REX’s] proposed action to less than significant levels.”

FERC staff said the proposed REX-East would cross what it designated as 31 special-interest areas, including state parks and forests, trails, scenic highways, canoeing streams, wild and scenic rivers and nature preserves. “In most cases, Rockies Express has not provided site-specific mitigation plans for the crossing of these areas. Therefore, we have recommended that plans be prepared.”

There also are archaeological and Native American concerns, but the FERC staff indicated these should be addressed by the mitigation plans now outlined by the project sponsors or FERC staff. The staff said 43 Native American tribes with cultural links to the proposed pipeline route have been contacted; 22 responded, and five tribes have indicated they will participate in the FERC consultation process. Another 17 tribes want to be notified in case human remains are found during REX-East’s construction.

FERC staff indicated that route variations (proposed by landowners or others) for 14 of 18 pipeline segments have been incorporated in the route now under review in the DEIS process.

The first 328-mile leg of the Rockies Express project, which runs from the Meeker Hub in Rio Blanco County, CO, to the Wamsutter Hub in Sweetwater County, WY, and then to the Cheyenne Hub, is in service and has a current capacity of 500,000 Dth/d. The second leg, known as REX-West, is expected to go into operation by Jan. 1, 2008. This portion of the project will transport gas more than 700 miles from the Cheyenne Hub in Weld County, CO, to its terminus at the Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line interconnect in Missouri.

The Rockies Express Pipeline is a joint venture of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, Sempra Pipelines and Storage and ConocoPhillips, and is one of the largest natural gas pipelines to be constructed in North America, according to Kinder Morgan. Binding firm commitments from creditworthy shippers have been secured for virtually all of the capacity on the pipeline, Kinder Morgan said.

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