I don’t think PennEast will be giving thanks for this

Today, November 7th 2016, FERC issued yet another “Information Request” to PennEast.  These are official notices from FERC to PennEast that they need a bunch of info to complete the NEPA process.  In this case, these were asks about DEIS questions and information that PennEast submitted after the DEIS comment period closed.

PennEast has 20 days to answer.

The request is here:

http://elibrary.FERC.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20161103-0023

In total, FERC lists 46 different things from PennEast.  And these were not small things.  Hoo-boy, no.  This wasn’t  some simple”please jiggle this table” request.  Some of the things FERC is asking for are massive, and I doubt some of the individual items could be done in 20 days, let alone all of them.  Either way, this is not going to be a Happy Thanksgiving for PennEast’s consultants.


Schedule Impact

A big question here is what impact this will have on the schedule.  Here’s some stuff to consider:

  • The Atlantic Sunrise’s FEIS was delayed due to route changes and EPA objections
  • EPA has been on a tear criticizing many projects under FERC NEPA review
  • FERC gave a 30 day notice period for PennEast a few days ago
  • Now FERC has hit PennEast with a massive list of questions with just 20 days to answer a mountains worth of information
  • PennEast’s original schedule had them already building the thing right now.  It slipped an entire year due to FERC saying it wasn’t achievable.
  • FERC rescheduled the Final EIS to drop December 16th
  • There are only 3 FERC commissioners right now (there is supposed to be 5)

Put all those facts together, and it doesn’t look good for a December 16th FEIS.  I don’t see a reasonable way for FERC to gather all the public comments by December 5th, process all of PennEast’s answers on November 27th, and have that all packaged in a neat FEIS bow on December 16th.  If they tried it, I think every group watching would scream bloody murder – and the courts would listen.

No, I think FERC is short handed and are under intense scrutiny right now.  I think they are bureaucratically building up a wall of excuses on why they can delay this project (and many others).  With only three commissioners that puts a heavy work load on them, it means any conflict of interest would render them unable to do anything at all, and that 3 people is a small number to take the blame if they mess up.

My guess is they’re going to delay this at least 60 days, if not more.  It’s ONLY my personal guess, but I think they don’t want anything to do with a PennEast decision until after the next president is sworn in, and maybe not even until they get more commissioners appointed.


Notable Asks

Some of the notable items from FERC’s ask-list include:

The huge “not an exhaustive list”

#1: “Provide updated alignment sheets and corresponding tables to correct the following sampling of discrepancies.  This is not an exhaustive list”.

The “not an exhaustive list” includes over 30 things that are wrong or missing with tables and maps in the DEIS.

Revise all your maps in Appendix F
#2: ”  ……provide a revised map as needed that shows the current proposed route as modified by PennEast’s September 23, 2016 filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission”.

Appalachian Mountain Club doesn’t believe you

#3: “In response to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s July 20, 2016 letter (accession number 20160722-5016), provide additional information to support PennEast’s statement in its June 8, 2016 response to the FERC Environmental Information Request (EIR) question no. 8, that the Buckeye West and Buckeye East alternative crossing locations of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (ANST) would “pose significant operational safety concerns due to proximity to existing products pipelines”.

Give us detailed alternatives all over the Blue Mountain area

#4: ” …evaluate the feasibility of a lateral pipeline to connect the Blue Mountain ski resort to Variations 13, 14, and 16-20 as identified in PennEast’s application to the Commission.  For each variation, identify a potential lateral pipeline route and provide an environmental comparison of the variation and lateral, with the corresponding segment of proposed route.”

In other words, “because Blue Mountain wants to be a customer” isn’t sufficient need to cause massive environmental damage.

Explain why you’re minimizing impacts to a Tea Party multi millionaire and maximizing impacts to small houses in West Amwell

#5: “Provide a response to the issues identified in the comment letter from Michael Spille (accession number 20160829-52257) regarding Variations 75 and 76 in Hunterdon County, New Jersey”.

Hey, I  know that guy 🙂  More seriously, FERC is actually finding the routing here suspicious, and is actually listening to a degree.

Explain why you prefer impacting houses to light industrial areas in Hopewell

#6: “…Hopewell Township states this interconnection is located in a light industrial area and would reduce impact on residences and farmland, a proposed affordable housing site, and traffic impacts related to crossing State Highway (SH) 31”.

 

Do a serious analysis of eliminating the need for the Atlantic Sunrise Project

#8: “….Identify if, and how, PennEast could modify the proposed PennEast Pipeline Project (Project) to accommodate the capacity and the customers proposed for the Atlantic Sunrise Project”.

This is part of EPA’s push, and FERC is starting to finally capitulate to them.  PennEast now has to try to show if it makes Atlantic Sunrise redundant.  Meanwhile, EPA will ask the same thing of Atlantic Sunrise (show how you can make PennEast redundant).

Actually try to avoid Important Bird Areas (IBA)

#10: “…In response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) comment (accession number 20160913-5213), describe the feasibility of a route alternative to avoid Important Bird Areas, as well as other areas known to the FWS to contain high concentrations of migratory birds.  Coordinate with the FWS to develop route alternative and file copies of PennEast’s consultation with the FWS”

This one is HUGE, and would likely take months for PennEast to do, not 20 days.

We don’t like ANY of your pipe and contractor yards.  Change them.

#13″…Modify proposed pipe and contractor ware yards in Luzerne, Carbon, and Northampton Counties, Pennsylvania, and Hunterdon County, New Jersey, to avoid or minimize forest clearing”.

Note that this isn’t just “tell us how you would do it” kind of request.  They want actual alternative pipe and contractor yard blue prints in new areas.  This will take forever.

Create a Biological Assessment (BA) for FWS

#18: “In its comments on the draft EIS the FWS New Jersey Field Office requested that a Biological Assessment (BA) be prepared for the Project.  Therefore, provide an applicant-prepared draft BA to address potential impacts on FWS trust resources.  The applicant-prepared draft BA should be prepared in consultation with the New Jersey and Pennsylvania field offices of the FWS”.

In 20 days!!

You can’t ignore the bats

#19: “Provide the measures or updates to those measures that PennEast would implement to ensure the Project would be consistent with the FWS New Jersey Field Office recommendation to avoid hibernacula for federally-listed bats by at least 0.25 miles.”

Really, you can’t ignore the bats

#20: “Update the status of mist net surveys completed for Indiana and Northern long-eared bats along the current proposed route, by state.  Include the number of surveys completed out of total number required/planned for each state, and update the capture results information”

Actually demonstrate that you’re trying to avoid state listed species

#23: “Provide a list of the measures PennEast has developed in consultation with the applicable state wildlife agencies to avoid or minimize Project impacts on state-listed species and state species of concern”

For some reason people are upset that you’re targeting conserved land

#25: “For each parcel crossed by the pipeline that is under any form of conservation or open space protective easement agreement, identify if construction and operation of the pipeline would change the status of the conservation or open space easement, and if the change would affect just the permanent right-of-way, the construction work space, or the entire parcel.  Also, as requested in comments filed by the FWS New Jersey Field Office (accession number 20150913-5213), develop a mitigation program for any public or private lands that would lose a conservation status and any special tax status as a result of the Project.  Update documentation of correspondence with the appropriate land management agencies for public lands or private lands conservation groups for other easements crossed by the Project:

The “conserved land is cheaper” free ride just got shut down.  By FERC of all people.

They’re upset you’re after conserved farms, too

#29: “Provide a response to New Jersey State Agriculture Development Committee’s (SADC’s) comments on PennEast’s Agricultural Impact Minimization Plan (AIMP) any filed with the Commission (accession number 20160912-5922)”.

So PennEast now has to prove that they’re actually trying to avoid preserved farm land.  This will be a serious problem for them, because they clearly are targeting preserved farm land to make their lives easier.

Delaware Township says you’re overestimated tax payments by 10x

#34: The Tax Assessor of Delaware Township estimates that the pipeline would generate $49,000 per year in annual property tax revenues in their township.  The estimates developed by PennEast (from Table 5.10-5 in Resource Report 5, and subsequently updated on February 19, 2016) are substantially higher: $2,914,782 over 5 years for an annual average of $583,000, more than 10 times the Delaware Township estimates”.

How exactly is PennEast going to explain that they’re basically trying to bribe municipalities like Delaware Township with over inflated tax estimates?

Let’s talk about reduction in property values

#35: “Explain how potential reductions in existing assessed values are addressed in the estimates presented in Table 5.10-5 in Resource Report 5, and subsequently updated on February 19, 2016.  Specifically, address potential reductions that would result from property owners requesting a reassessment in their property taxes because they no longer control the land within the PennEast easement”.

This is my personal favorite.  FERC, who claims that pipelines don’t impact property values, is now telling PennEast to account for loss of property values from having a pipeline easement on their properties.

EPA setup for more GHG emissions analysis

#44: The EPA has requested (accession number 20160913-5144) an estimate of the number of wells required to supply the amount of natural gas that could be transported by the PennEast pipeline.  Provide this estimate”.

This is HUGE.  This is a setup by the EPA for saying “now quantify how much green house gas emissions are associated with those X hundred wells”.

There were actually 5 large EPA-induced asks around air quality impacts.


Summary

So I don’t think FERC has necessarily reformed or turned a corner here.  More likely, they are really feeling the heat of September the 12th. They are feeling the heat of Beyond Extreme Energy protests.  Of many congress people complaining about issues with FERC.  And of massive public complaints about the FERC rubber stamp.  All in the most contentious election year ever.

Add to that an especially bad pipeline proposal like PennEast, and you have a recipe for disaster…for FERC.  I think FERC is channeling their Inner Bureaucrat and is purposefully adding in dozens of time and energy intensive requests to PennEast to have an excuse to delay the Final EIS.  I think FERC is also seeing the writing on the wall that Fish & Wildlife, EPA, and the state Clean Water Act stewards have stopped kowtowing to FERC and are going to start playing hard ball.  They know it for a fact from NY DEC, and they’re feeling it now with increased EPA pressure on Green House Gas emissions and other areas.

FERC is putting on the brakes, and we should all be happy about it.  Let’s hope the investors in the PennEast companies sit up and take notice of this.


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Published by

Mike Spille

I'm a thinker, an analyzer, a synthesizer. Maybe not in that order. I live in West Amwell NJ with my wife Kristina, our two kids Day and Z, our two dogs Fern and Cinna, and two cats Ponce de Leon and Xavier.

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