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Climate analysis for pipelines to LNG projects a 'divisive issue' for FERC: adviser

Highlights

Climate seen featuring in policy review

Fisher coordinated controversial power grid study

  • Author
  • Corey Paul
  • Editor
  • Keiron Greenhalgh
  • Commodity
  • Natural Gas

A senior adviser to the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman said the way the agency assesses climate impacts in reviews of natural gas infrastructure projects has divided the commissioners.

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The comments from Travis Fisher, an adviser to FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre, a Republican, highlighted a possible sticking point as the agency tries to speed up reviews and plow through a backlog of LNG project applications.

Fisher spoke on a Wednesday panel at the United States Association for Energy Economics conference in Arlington, Virginia.

Peter Balash, senior economist for the US Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory, asked Fisher about FERC efforts to examine climate impacts in evaluations of pipelines supporting LNG projects.

Fisher said: "You can see where the votes are coming down; this is a somewhat divisive issue within the FERC."

Fisher pointed to comments by former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, a Democrat, when he was head of the commission. Wellinghoff was "outspoken about his belief that FERC doesn't currently have the statutory authority or the obligation to [review] the upstream emissions or the increase in [carbon dioxide] that might be associated with a specific pipeline project," Fisher said.

"We're still working out all these issues, of course," Fisher said.

Fisher said he was not speaking on behalf of FERC, which is evaluating a 1999 policy statement on how it assesses pipelines in deciding whether to issue Natural Gas Act certificates for the projects. Climate analysis is "going to be, I would imagine, a very central piece of the policy statement review," he said.

At a September 20 FERC meeting, the four current commissioners supported recent steps by the agency to speed up reviews of LNG export projects. The two Democrats, commissioners Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick, cautioned that such efforts should not reduce opportunities for public participation or diminish protection for local communities.

FERC does not have a full complement of five commissioners. Commissioner Robert Powelson stepped down in mid-August, leaving fellow Republicans McIntyre and Commissioner Neil Chatterjee evenly matched against the Democrats and creating the possibility of deadlock on some decisions. The two sides have been split on matters related to interstate pipelines, primarily the commission's analysis of public need and climate impacts. Similar disagreements could arise in LNG project proceedings.

Fisher previously worked as a Trump administration appointee at DOE, where he coordinated an electric grid study that was controversial in its preference for coal-fired and nuclear power. On the Wednesday panel, Fisher said he was "transitioning from the chairman's staff to the [FERC] Office of Energy Policy and Innovation."

"That's effective as soon as my boss sends the email, probably today," he said.

-- Corey Paul, S&P Global Market Intelligence, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh, newsdesk@spglobal.com