Friday, July 21, 2017

Proposed gas pipelines opposed from varied corners; ex-regulator questions approval process

Pennsylvania nuns hold church in a roofless chapel established on land earmarked
for construction of a gas pipeline. (Washington Post photo by Michael S, Williamson)
Construction of natural gas pipelines is increasing because of a boom in the gas industry from horizontal hydraulic fracturing, but with it comes increasing pushback from government watchdog groups, environmental organizations, and landowners who live in proposed paths of the pipes.

Pipelines are permitted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and National Public Radio-backed StateImpact Pennsylvania raises questions about FERC's neutrality. They found that that FERC has rejected only two pipelines out of hundreds proposed over the last 30 years, and 80 percent of former commissioners went on to work at energy companies or the groups representing them.

The outgoing chief of FERC under the Obama administration, Norman Bay, "surprised the gas industry and activists by cautioning that the federal approval process for gas pipelines was full of shortcomings, creating a risk of overbuilding. In a six-page essay filed as part of a commission proceeding, Bay, long an ally of the industry, opined that regulators are not paying enough attention to legitimate concerns about the long-term viability of the projects, their impact on global warming and the hardships they can cause for communities along their routes," reports Evan Halper of the Los Angeles Times.

Environmental groups worry that 9,000 new miles of pipeline in the planning stages will reduce interest in renewable sources of energy. “If we build all this gas capacity, we will have a strong incentive to use it for its useful life, which extends well into the 21st century. That will blow our climate goals," said Michael Wara, an energy law scholar at Stanford University. Climate groups also worry that much of the gas that will be shipped through pipelines such as the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia will end up going to foreign countries through tanks of compressed gas instead of being used by Americans. They're also concerned that the pipeline would run through the Appalachian Trail and ruin iconic views.

Some residents who live on land targeted for pipeline construction are refusing to grant easements, leases or sales. A family in central Pennsylvania was forced by a judge to leave their property to allow construction of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline. And some ecologically-minded nuns elsewhere in Pennsylvania built an outdoor chapel in the middle of land they were asked to temporarily turn over for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline construction. Williams Cos. says they're only asking to pay for an easement to bury the pipeline. The nuns filed a complaint with the FERC saying that putting the pipeline on their property would violate their religious freedom, Julie Zauzmer reports for The Washington Post. The tactic might work because of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

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