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US senators press FERC to act quickly on North Bakken gas pipeline expansion

Highlights

North Dakota lawmakers focus on flaring reductions

As Virginia senators urge more time for comments on MVP

US lawmakers from North Dakota are pressing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to act by its next monthly meeting to authorize WBI Energy Transmission's North Bakken Expansion project, contending the 60-mile, 250 MMcf/d project has potential to cut methane emissions, alongside their assertions about its economic benefits.

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The project, if approved, will provide incremental firm capacity from six gas processing plants to a proposed interconnect with Northern Border Pipeline Company.

The senators' emphasis on the environmental footprint comes as greenhouse gas emissions of gas projects are expected to face more scrutiny at FERC under Chairman Richard Glick, who has long urged FERC to consider the climate impact of projects when it makes a public interest determination.

"Providing new takeaway capacity allows domestic producers in the Bakken to increase their natural gas capture rate and reduce flaring," said Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, along with Representative Kelly Armstrong, all Republicans from North Dakota, in a March 26 letter.

"Because this project would interconnect with an existing pipeline network and provide an alternative to Canadian-sourced gas, it is our understanding that the net effect on downstream greenhouse gas emissions would be negligible."

WBI Energy on March 19 also pressed FERC for expedited action by April 15, building on the company's prior effort to secure a February or March FERC decision to allow time to complete construction by a November 1 in-service target.

In its March 19 letter to FERC, WBI Energy said the project would assist North Dakota producers and operators in meeting state gas capture targets by providing an added outlet for gas volumes that might otherwise be flared. Most gas pipeline capacity in the region is at capacity because of an increase in associated gas production over the last several years, WBI said.

Bakken production averaged 2.0 Bcf/d this winter, but S&P Global Platts Analytics expects this to decline to 1.7 Bcf/d next winter with winter-over-winter losses going forward. While the exact timeline of when the bulk of declines would occur could vary, Platts Analytics expects them to come regardless. According to the North Dakota Industrial Commission, Bakken flaring averaged 170 MMcf/d from November 2020 through January 2021. The data is lagged by a couple of months. With lower production in the basin and the start-up of Outrigger Energy II's 250 MMcf/d Bill Sanderson Gas Processing Plant any day now, flaring will likely fall in the basin regardless of this new processing and transport.

WBI and the lawmakers also touched on another area of interest to Glick – whether projects have adequately demonstrated need. They noted that WBI Energy has entered into six binding precedent agreements with non-affiliated shippers for project capacity. Glick has sought more scrutiny of project need in circumstances when projects rely on contracts with affiliated shippers to demonstrate need.

More time for MVP

From the other side of the aisle, Democratic senators from Virginia have urged FERC to make more time for comments on the Mountain Valley Pipeline's proposed amendments.

The 303-mile 2 Bcf/d project, which would connect Appalachian Shale gas to Mid-Atlantic markets, has recently submitted new applications following court and regulatory setbacks. In an abbreviated application at FERC Feb. 19, MVP sought to use trenchless water crossing methods at 120 locations to cross 181 waterbodies that FERC originally authorized for open cut methods.

Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner wrote March 26 to ask FERC to extend the intervenor and public comment period by at least 60 days, pointing to their constituents' confusion about the amendment request and deadlines, as well as the scope of actions needed to respond to each filing.

They highlighted constituents' concerns that the boring process proposed could affect local watersheds and household access to water, as well as impacts to endangered species and critical habitats.

"A detailed environmental survey and a substantial comment period will bring additional transparency and public engagement to FERC's regulatory process," they said, as they suggested an added comment period would fit within MVP's requested timeline of a FERC decision by June 17. They sought another public comment period after FERC's environmental document is published.