FERC initiates pipeline environmental assessment study

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By Pam Wright/The Advocate-Messenger/Kentucky Press News Service

Residents and agencies concerned about Kinder Morgan's proposal to convert a pipeline to carry NGLs through Kentucky now have an opportunity to provide comments and input on the project's environmental impact.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is in the process of preparing an environmental assessment of Kinder Morgan's proposed $412 million Abandonment and Capacity Restoration Project. The project proposes to abandon 964 miles of Tennessee Gas Pipeline's existing pipeline from Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, to Columbiana County, Ohio, which currently transports natural gas, and reverse the flow to carry natural gas liquids.

In its notice of intent to prepare the environmental assessment, FERC said it will use the information in deciding whether the project "is in the public convenience and necessity."

The environmental assessment is required under the National Environmental Police Act. NEPA also requires the commission to discover and address the public's concerns, which is referred to as "scoping."

The commission said it will consider all filed comments during the preparation of the environmental assessment.

The scoping period — the time in which the commission will accept comments from agencies and the public — closes May 18.

Jim O'Reilly, a law professor at the University of Cincinnati, offered his viewpoint in an email addressed to Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council and a Google group, Stop the Fracking Pipeline, which are working in tandem to fight Kinder Morgan's proposal to repurpose the pipeline to carry the highly volatile NGLs.

In its letter to FERC opposing the pipeline project, Danville City Commission noted NGLs are "150 times more explosive than natural gas."

O'Reilly suggests that, although the environmental assessment is far less thorough and rigorous than an environmental impact statement, it is an opportunity to "fill" the case with comments from the public.

"The EA is much easier on the agency staff than a full EIS," he said. "The use of an EA is simpler and cheaper, often done for CYA (cover your assets) purposes, to (be able to) tell a court if there is a court action that the agency had done "something." But it is a chance to fill the record with information and make FERC pay attention to you."

According to FERC, the environmental assessment will look at the impacts that could occur as a result of construction and operation of the proposed project, including geology and soils; land use; water resources, fisheries and wetlands; cultural resources; air quality and noise; endangered and threatened species; and public safety.

O'Reilly suggested a three-prong approach in "seizing the initiative" to "fill the record."

"First, assemble the volunteers to gather factual data on each of the listed factual issues and a team on environmental consequences of a break or leak," O'Reilly wrote to FitzGerald and the group. "Second team, contact county judge-executives in each county and ask for their evacuation plan from a BETX (Benzene, Ethylbenzene, Toluene and Xylenes) cloud ignition. Third team, meet with the state fire marshal and the president of the Kentucky Fire Chiefs Association and ask their ability to respond to a BETX release/fire in a populated area. Ask them to write a letter (regarding) the 'public safety' issue of volunteer fire department preparedness for this pipeline to break and ignite near a school or nursing home, etc."

FitzGerald also suggested local governments pass a resolution asking FERC to do a full environmental impact study.

"What would be helpful is to have each county pass a resolution calling on FERC to do a full Environmental Impact Statement covering the abandonment and repurposing," FitzGerald told the Google group in a response email. "I will take responsibility for contacting each county and sending them a draft of a resolution."

Local officials and interested parties are most concerned about Kinder Morgan's plan to build a new section of pipe beneath Herrington Lake, the region's primary source for water.

Other concerns include the Karst topography of the area, which some officials believe pose incredible risks for the 70-plus year-old pipeline, and the proximity of the pipeline to Hogsett Elementary School, a senior center and residential homes.

FERC's notice of intent includes a section primarily for landowners, reminding them the company would seek to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement for use of their land.

"However, if the commission approves the project, that approval conveys with it the right of eminent domain," said FERC's notice. "Therefore, if easement negotiations fail to produce an agreement, the pipeline company could initiate condemnation proceedings where compensation would be determined in accordance with state law."

The state law referred to is currently being contested in court proceedings in connection with the Bluegrass Pipeline proposal, which was abandoned after Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shephard ruled in February 2014 that the federal government could not grant the power of condemnation to Bluegrass Pipeline, citing that only utilities have the authority to condemn.

An appeal by Bluegrass Pipeline is expected to be heard later this month by Kentucky Court of Appeals Judges Janet L. Stumbo, James H. Lambert and Jeff S. Taylor.

According to FitzGerald, the outcome of the case could have a major impact on Kinder Morgan's ability to condemn property for the proposed abandonment and repurposing of the pipeline to carry NGLs — which will be called the Utica-Mercellus Texas Pipeline if it is approved by FERC and comes into service.

FERC encourages public participation in preparations for the environmental assessment.

"You can make a difference by providing us with your specific comments or concerns about the project. Your comments should focus on the potential environmental effects, reasonable alternatives and measures to avoid or lessen environmental impacts. The more specific your comments, the more useful they will be," FERC said in its notice.

There are three methods of submitting comments, and all submissions must refer to the project docket number, CP15-88-000.

The commission encourages electronic filings of comments using the eComment feature on the commission's website, www.ferc.com, under the link to "Documents and Filings." This method is best for brief, text-only comments. For assistance, you can email staff at exiling@ferc.gov or call (202) 502-8258.

You also can file comments electronically using the eFiling feature on the website under the same link, "Documents and Filings." In this format, you can provide comments in a variety of formats by attaching them as a file with your submission. However, you must first create an account by clicking eRegister and select the type of filing you are making, which in this case would be "Comment on a Filing."

Finally, you can file a paper copy of your comments by mailing them to Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street NE, Room 1A, Washington, D.C. 20426.

The deadline to file ends May 18.