Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Richard Glick has assured a group of senators that the commission would not delay acting on pending gas project certificates while it considers reforms to its policy for approving projects.
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His comments responded to an April 29 letter from 25 US senators urging FERC to act promptly and also warning the regulator against adding new policy considerations into the decisions on those projects.
The lawmakers, including Senators John Hoeven, Republican-North Dakota, and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin, Democrat-West Virginia, wrote that many of the proposed projects before the commission, some pending for more than a year, were "critical to addressing supply issues and strengthening our energy infrastructure."
Glick responded in letters to individual senators made public in the FERC docket May 24. Agreeing that FERC should not delay, he stressed that on May 20 the commission had issued orders approving certificates for proposed pipeline projects in Minnesota and Nevada.
Just as former FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre did after he opened an earlier inquiry into possible changes to FERC's 1999 natural gas pipeline certificate policy in 2018, Glick said, "I can assure you that the commission will not wait to act on certificate applications while we consider options for approving the process."
A new round of comments on FERC's pipeline policy was due May 26, in answer to a February notice of inquiry seeking added input on environmental justice and climate issues (PL18-1).
In response to Glick's letter, Hoeven said he was pleased to see FERC approve two pipeline certificates and appreciated Glick's agreement that pending projects should not be delayed.
"However, there are still 12 projects awaiting consideration before the commission, some of which have been delayed for an extended period of time," Hoeven said in an emailed statement May 25. "We look forward to FERC's continued action on these applications, without delay and in accordance with Chairman Glick's commitment."
The back-and-forth comes amid a dispute over whether FERC should be adjusting its approach on contentious issues such as greenhouse gas considerations on a case-by-case basis, or instead wait until it tackles the review of the broader pipeline policy. Commissioners James Danly and Mark Christie have argued that FERC should address significant shifts in the broader docket, rather than in isolated project dockets with few participants.
Prior policy inquiry idled
Glick noted in his response to senators that while the notice of inquiry was first opened by McIntyre in 2018, no action was taken by the two subsequent chairmen. His reassurances about avoiding delay come after a tense May open meeting left behind questions about how quickly FERC can resolve differences and act on more projects.
The commission on May 20 approved by a 3-2 vote Northern Natural Gas' Northern Lights 2021, a 45.6 MMcf/d project in Minnesota that entails additional compression, short segments of pipeline, and other modifications (CP20-503), along with Tuscarora Gas Transmission's Tuscarora XPress project, a 15 MMcf/d compression project in Nevada (CP20-486).
FERC has yet to act on the 92.5-mile, 250 MMcf/d North Bakken Expansion Project, which would provide incremental firm capacity from six gas processing plants to a proposed interconnect with Northern Border Pipeline Company. Hoeven and other US lawmakers from North Dakota in March pressed FERC to act, contending the project had potential to cut methane emissions, alongside their assertions about its economic benefits. Adding a possible hurdle in that docket, the Institute for Policy Integrity has faulted FERC's environmental assessment for a failure to project indirect GHG emissions or monetize emissions.
The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, in an email, said it was "pleased to see dialogue between FERC and Congress around predictable permitting processes for natural gas infrastructure."
"We continue to believe that timely regulatory reviews for pending natural gas projects can deliver environmental and economic benefits while ensuring reliable energy for Americans across the nation," the group added.