Houston — The US Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups are weighing in with critiques and recommendations on the federal review of Columbia Gas Transmission's 66-mile, 275 MMcf/d Buckeye XPress project.
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The project, mostly located in Ohio, would boost firm capacity by 275 MMcf/d. It entails replacing more than 60 miles of aging 20- to 24-inch-diameter pipeline with new 36-inch-diameter pipeline on Columbia's existing Line R-501 to address integrity concerns.
Under the Trump Administration, EPA comments about Federal Energy Regulatory Commission environmental reports have tended to be more cautious than under the Obama administration, when they sometimes took a critical tone and lambasted FERC for its approach to greenhouse gas considerations.
In an environmental assessment May 20, FERC staff found the Buckeye XPress project would not lead to significant environmental impacts as long as the pipeline took appropriate mitigation measures.
EPA's Region 5 office in Chicago, in comments posted June 19, backed changes to water crossings in sensitive areas.
The EA indicates the project would use wet open-cut methods for 78% of water crossings, EPA said, as it backed increased usage of "less impactful crossing methods" such as dry trench or horizontal directional drilling. The project would directly cross 335 waterbodies, according to the EA, it noted.
For high-quality streams, wetlands and unique wildlife habitats, the EPA region recommended a commitment to use trenchless crossings.
CLIMATE CHANGE IN STEEP AREAS
Climate change also factored into the comments, as EPA recommended an assessment of whether depth of pipeline and erosion controls would be resilient to expected changes in the frequency and intensity of precipitation, particularly in steep terrain.
Given information in the EA on climate change, it suggested consideration of measures the applicant could take to reduce and sequester GHG emissions, such as monitoring for pipeline leaks, and replanting trees and vegetation removed during construction. Other steps could include limits on idling time that can greatly reduce emissions, it said.
It also said the EA did not appear to weigh US Forest Service concerns that abandonment in place may result in impacts due to corrosion and collapse over time, and it suggested further upfront investigation of contamination around the South Point Plant Superfund Site and historic mines.
GREEN GROUPS LAY OUT ARGUMENTS
A coalition of environmental groups including the Ohio Environmental Council, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity also weighed in to say the EA offered insufficient analysis of indirect GHG emissions and climate change and biological resources.
Potentially signaling future litigation ahead, the groups' arguments hit on areas hotly debated among FERC commissioners, faulting the EA for failing to estimate or consider upstream or downstream GHG emissions.
FERC failed to consider recent findings, such as Oil Change International reports, asserting the need to halt expanded fossil fuel production and infrastructure to avoid the worst dangers of climate changed, they argued.
They raised separate concerns about impacts to the Wayne National Forest, pipeline leak and rupture, and water resource impacts.
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