The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has released the draft version of an additional climate review of a pending Columbia Gulf Transmission pipeline project in Louisiana, finding once more that agency staff could not draw conclusions about the significance of natural gas projects' contributions to climate change.
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The pipeline developer's eight-mile, 725 MMcf/d East Lateral XPress Project is one of five pending gas projects that received a May 27 notice from FERC, saying the regulator planned to perform additional environmental assessments of their potential contributions to climate change. The draft environmental impact statement issued by FERC on June 25 marked the third draft review issued for projects on track to receive the additional consideration of climate change impacts (CP20-527).
The conclusions reached by FERC staff are similar in the three draft reviews released so far, underscoring the uncertainty for developers of gas projects as the regulator develops its approach to assessing climate change impacts.
"Commission staff conclude that construction and operation of the project would not result in significant environmental impacts, with the exception of climate change impacts, where FERC staff is unable to determine significance," the draft review for the East Lateral XPress Project said.
FERC Chairman Richard Glick has defended the added climate reviews, saying they will strengthen the legal durability of permitting decisions and that it remains up to commissioners to work out how to determine the significance of projects' contributions to global warming. Glick has also said the commission would analyze climate impacts of pipeline projects on a case-by-case basis while it prepared a potential update to the agency's decades-old policy for permitting pipelines.
"From my perspective, I do see the analyses that are going to come down from the environmental impact statements as potentially helping the commissioners, including myself, determine whether the emissions associated with those projects are significant," Glick told reporters June 17. "In my opinion, we can make that analysis, we should make that analysis, and the courts have told us we have to do that analysis."
Each of the five projects being subjected to the expanded reviews already received less-extensive environmental assessments from FERC. Each of the projects had also been protested.
The recommendations on assessing climate could evolve by the time final environmental impacts for the projects are finished, and Glick said he would be "comfortable going forward" with decisions on certificate applications once they are. FERC has said it plans to release final environmental impact statements in the fall and that the expanded reviews would build off the environmental assessments that had already been completed.
Columbia Gulf, a subsidiary of TC Energy, filed an application at FERC for the East Lateral Xpress Project in September 2020. The project would add 183,000 Dt/d of incremental gas transportation capacity and feed Venture Global LNG's proposed Plaquemines LNG export terminal south of New Orleans. Combined with existing capacity, the project would allow for open access firm transportation service of up to 725,000 Dt/d on the East lateral. The Plaquemines LNG project has not yet been commercially sanctioned by Venture Global.
The previous two projects to receive the expanded climate reviews were Iroquois Gas Transmission System's 125 MMcf/d Enhancement by Compression Project in Connecticut and New York (CP20-48) and Adelphia Gateway's Marcus Hook Electric Compression Project, proposed under a blanket certificate in Pennsylvania (CP21-14).
The remaining two gas projects that received notices on May 27 that they should expect added environmental impact statements were TC Energy's 495 MMcf/d North Baja XPress project in Arizona and California (CP20-27) and Tennessee Gas Pipeline's 115 MMcf/d East 300 Upgrade Project in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (CP20-493). The FERC notices indicated that the draft environmental impact statements would be issued in June or July.