Environmental groups ask for rehearing on Columbia pipeline permit


Two environmental groups who have actively opposed approval of an interstate natural gas line that would run under the Potomac River have asked a federal agency to hold another hearing on the project and reassess the impacts of the pipeline.

Potomac Riverkeeper Network and Chesapeake Climate Action Network filed a request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on August 17 for a rehearing and rescission of a certificate that would allow Columbia Gas to build a 3.4-mile gas line from Fulton County, Pa. through the Hancock area and under the Potomac River to West Virginia.

Columbia Gas Transmission proposes to supply gas through the line to a 23-mile pipeline being built by Mountaineer Gas in West Virginia.

FERC issued their approval for the Columbia Gas project on July 19 of this year. Mountaineer Gas got West Virginia approval for their project last year. Mountaineer’s pipeline is under construction now.

In requesting a rehearing on the FERC permit, an attorney for the environmental groups argued that federal commissioners failed to do two main things – assess the total future greenhouse gas impact of the gas lines and review the environmental impact of the Columbia and Mountaineer Gas lines together.

Anne Havemann, General Counsel for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, called FERC’s Environmental Assessment of the Columbia Gas project “deficient” and requested that “a full Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) be prepared in order to comply with the Commission’s obligations pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”),” the filing says.

The groups allege that FERC violated federal policy by “failing to adequately consider the indirect upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions the Project will cause.”

FERC also violated federal policy, their attorney argued, by “failing to treat the Mountaineer Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project as a ‘similar’ or ‘connected’ action despite that project exhibiting characteristics of an interstate pipeline, including receiving out-of-state natural gas.”

“The Mountaineer Gas Pipeline and Project are connected functionally, physically, and financially,” the groups said.

According to the environmental groups, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the projects haven’t been analyzed fully, or with the most current scientific tools being used by federal agencies.

“Interstate natural gas pipelines trigger two types of indirect GHG emissions, emissions associated with upstream productions and emissions associated with downstream construction of the transported fuel,” their filing notes. “FERC erred by ignoring completely any upstream GHG emissions.”

“In light of the close connection between the Project and the Mountaineer Gas Pipeline, FERC was obligated to assess the cumulative impacts and fully analyze coupled impacts to water, aquatic habitat, soil, forested land, wildlife, wetlands and other areas of concern,” Havemann wrote.

The groups have asked FERC to hold another hearing on the project approval, rescind their approval and conduct a new environmental analysis before reconsidering Columbia Gas’ permit.