On January 21, the US. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 161, known as the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act. The resolution directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve or deny pipeline projects within 12 months after receiving a complete application.
In West Virginia, there are at least two major pipeline projects in the pre-filing stage with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline will each go through environmental analysis and a public comment period before being approved or denied by the Federal Government. Tamara Young Allen, spokesperson with FERC, says this process normally takes 12-18 months.
“The commission will look at all potential aspects of the environmental impact of a project, and that includes cultural resources, wetlands, endangered species, impacts on waterways, geology, agricultural land, etc,” Allen said.
The House of Representatives recently passed a resolution, which, if it became a law, would direct FERC to shorten the length of time it reviews all pipeline projects to one year. If FERC fails to review a given project within that time, the resolution states, the project should automatically be approved.
“We should not be allowing these permits to go for years before they are approved or denied,” said Representative David McKinley of W.Va., one of the co-sponsors of the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act. He also co-sponsored H.R. 351, known as the LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act. H.R. 351 requires the Department of Energy to expedite its decisions regarding natural gas export facilities (within 30 days of receiving a completed environmental review).
McKinley said he supports these two resolutions because more infrastructure in the natural gas industry is needed to help bring more construction and manufacturing jobs to West Virginia, like the proposed cracker plant in Wood County. McKinley said natural gas and liquified natural gas (LNG) from West Virginia could eventually be transported to overseas markets.
“Oh my yes. We need to be exporting our natural gas, our LNG. If the Ukraine situation is an example, just one example... by virtue of not having to get exported gas from America, they had to rely on Russia," said Rep. McKinley.
"It's a very interconnected issue here, whether we want to continue to get natural gas. And secondly then a pipeline to get it to market. And one of the biggest markets is going to be exporting.”
But the prospect of exporting West Virginia's natural gas concerns many West Virginian landowners, including Cookie Cole, whose family has been living in the area for five generations.
“The gas, it's not going to benefit us whatsoever, and it will be running two billion cubic feet of gas a day through our county, and it's headed to export terminals. Why should we destroy our county so somebody else could benefit from it?” said Cookie Cole.
Determining whether citizens would benefit from a pipeline project— and whether a pipeline would have significant, lasting impacts on their land-- are some of the questions that the FERC explores during their extensive review process.
Jody Mohr, with the West Virginia Sierra Club, says that for the FERC review to work, the agency needs time to consider all the issues.
“The pipelines that we're hearing so much about, we've never seen pipelines this large. The potential impact radius of a 42 inch pipeline explosion are just massive. The difficulty- should something go wrong, of getting to these areas! And again, protecting our wildlife and habitat.”
Mohr is describing the proposed 550 mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which could run through two National Forests in West Virginia.
Meanwhile, H.R. 161, the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act, and H.R. 351, LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act, have both been approved by the House of Representatives in Washington DC. Whether or when these bills might be taken up by the Senate is unclear.
Click here to make a comment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about the Mountain Valley Pipeline [docket number PF15-3-000] or the Atlantic Coast Pipeline [docket number PF15-6-000]
Click here to make a comment to the U.S. Forest Service, which is considering whether to issue a special use permit to Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, which would allow the company to conduct site survey and testing in a 17.1-mile segment of the Monongahela National Forest and 12.6 miles of the George Washington National Forest.