2018-02-07 / Front Page

Proposed Columbia gas pipeline won’t “significantly” affect environment, say feds

by Kate Shunney

A map contained in the FERC Environmental Assessment shows the 3.4-mile path of the proposed natural gas pipeline. A map contained in the FERC Environmental Assessment shows the 3.4-mile path of the proposed natural gas pipeline. An Environmental Assessment released late last month by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) says a proposed 3.4-mile natural gas pipeline from Fulton County, Pa. to Morgan County, W.Va. won’t pose serious environmental risks.

The federal energy agency, along with the U.S. National Park Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), prepared the 176-page Environmental Assessment and posted it on FERC’s website on January 26.

“The FERC staff concludes that approval of the proposed Project, with appropriate mitigating measures, would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” the report says in its opening paragraphs.

During a comment period as part of the assessment process, FERC received letters from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service, Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Allegheny Defense Project, West Virginia Rivers, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and 115 citizens individually.

The authors of the assessment note that some comment were in general opposition to fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources, while others raised health risk concerns about fracking for gas. FERC officials said those issues are outside the scope of the Columbia Gas project assessment because they are outside the authority of FERC.

The document lists information about the soils, cultural resources, geology, land use, safety, surface and groundwater concerns, vegetation and wildlife in the 3.4-mile project area.

According to the federal assessment, construction of an 8-inch gas pipeline will have temporary impacts on the properties it crosses, but will not cause specific longterm harm to plant life, water supplies or wildlife.

Some concerns led FERC authors to issue recommendations to Columbia Gas.

The report says the pipeline will be built in “areas with a high incidence and high susceptibility to landslides.” Construction should be done in a way that guarantees the safety of equipment operators and reduces erosion.

Even though karst geology is documented in the pipeline area, FERC officials say the porous and unstable rock formations aren’t a major concern: “It is unlikely karst features would have an effect on the Project or that the Project would impact karst features.”

Gas company borings in the project area did show underground voids, but at a depth of 50 feet below grade. The gas company proposes to drill horizontally under the Potomac River at a depth of 115 feet below the riverbed.

Twelve water wells were identified within 150 feet of the proposed gas line. FERC recommends that Columbia should offer to monitor those wells before construction and after, the report says.

The company should also provide a temporary water supply if construction of the pipeline disrupts or pollutes well water supplies.

The assessment repeatedly refers to Columbia Gas’ own environmental control plans for the project, saying the company must follow those safeguards and clean up or repair any damaged areas after construction. FERC recommends Columbia employ at least one Environmental Inspector for each construction area to monitor work and make sure work complies with permit rules. Inspectors would file bi-weekly status reports with FERC.

The assessment makes 17 recommendations, most of them for Columbia Gas to put their plans in writing and notify FERC’s Office of Energy Projects of any changes or problems during construction.

FERC officials state in the report that their Office of Energy Projects has authority to “take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the protection of all environmental resources during construction and operation of the Project.” That authority includes stopping work or imposing stiffer rules to avoid environmental impacts.

A full version of the Environmental Assessment can be seen or downloaded from the FERC website. Agency accepting comments

FERC will take comments on their assessment until February 26.

The agency specified that comments should “focus on the potential environmental effects, reasonable alternatives, and measures to avoid or lessen environmental impacts.”

Comments can be filed on the FERC website under the link to Documents and Filings. They can also be posted using the agency’s eFiling tool. Written comments can be mailed to:

Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street NE, Room 1A, Washington, D.C. 20426.

All comments should reference Docket No. CP17-80- 000.

The federal agency still hasn’t issued a final decision whether to grant a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity to Columbia Gas for the project.

In the environmental report, officials say that decision will be based on “technical competence, financing, rates, market demand, gas supply, environmental impact, longterm feasibility, and other issues concern a proposed project.”

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