Natural Gas Pipelines

Update: FERC Commissioners Vote Unanimously to Revise Pipeline Certificate and GHG Emission Policy Statements

Industries:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has reached consensus to revise the two policy statements it issued on February 18, 2022, impacting the permitting and construction of new natural gas pipeline facilities

During the March 24, 2022 FERC open meeting, Chairman Glick explained that the new order will:

  • Change the status of both policy statements to be “draft” policy statements
  • Reopen the comment period for both draft policy statements so that the Commission can re-engage with stakeholders and further develop the record
  • Further develop the record, and revise both policy statements to make them applicable only prospectively to any pipeline certificate applications that are filed subsequent to the issuance of any final versions of the policy statements.

Currently-pending certificate applications will be reviewed pursuant to the Commission’s 1999 Policy Statement  and relevant FERC and judicial precedent.  Although the vote was unanimous, each of the Commissioners indicated that they intend to issue separate statements explaining their

Amidst Ongoing Policy Statement Controversy, D.C. Circuit Remands Another FERC Pipeline Order Over GHG Analysis

Once again finding the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (“FERC” or “Commission”) environmental assessment (“EA”) analysis of the downstream effect of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions associated with interstate natural gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas terminals certificated pursuant to the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) legally insufficient, on March 11, 2022, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a remand directing FERC to consider the reasonably foreseeable indirect effects of burning natural gas as the result of a pipeline expansion project.  The court directed FERC to consider such indirect downstream impacts on remand and to prepare a conforming EA, but declined to vacate the FERC’s orders. Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action Team v. FERC, No. 20-1132 (Mar. 11, 2022) (“Food & Water Watch”).  Food & Water Watch, authored by Chief Judge Srinivasan and joined by Judges Millett and Katsas, appears to provide further support for some of the reasoning provided by

Contentious Senate Committee Hearing Highlights the Politically-Charged Nature of FERC’s Recent Pipeline Policy Statements

The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee held a hearing today to question Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Richard Glick and Commissioners Allison Clements, Mark Christie, James Danly, and Willie Phillips about FERC’s two recent policy statements regarding natural gas certificates.  Those two policy statements, each of which were issued by 3-2 vote with Commissioners Christie and Danly dissenting with separate statements, were issued on February 18, 2022 and are the subject of a separate Pierce Atwood blog post. Members of the Pierce Atwood Energy team watched the livestream video of the Senate hearing, and, in this post, provide some high-level insights based on the Senators’ questions and Commissioners’ responses today.

To no one’s surprise, the hearing was a politically-charged event. With one notable exception, the participating Senators’ response to FERC’s actions was split along party lines, with Democrats generally supporting the policy statements and Republicans criticizing the policy statements with openly expressed dismay and frustration.  The FERC Commissioners’

FERC Issues Two Controversial Policy Statements on Natural Gas Infrastructure

Industries:

On February 18, 2022, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or the “Commission”) issued two controversial policy statements that will significantly impact the permitting and construction of new natural gas pipeline facilities.  The policy statements were each approved by a 3-2 majority with Commissioners Danly and Christie issuing separate dissents.

The Updated Policy Statement on Certification of New Interstate Natural Gas Facilities (“Updated Policy Statement”) revises FERC’s 1999 Certificate Policy Statement to give environmental analysis and policy, including environmental justice, a greater role in determining whether FERC should approve new natural gas transportation facilities as consistent with the “public convenience and necessity” under Section 7 of the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”).  A companion Interim Policy Statement on the Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Natural Gas Infrastructure Project Reviews (“GHG Policy Statement”) seeks to explain how FERC will assess the impacts of natural gas infrastructure projects on climate change in its reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and the NGA.

Technical Conference Sparks Debate Over FERC’s Legal Authority to Consider Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Pipeline Certification Review

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Industries:

On November 19, 2021, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) convened a staff-led technical conference to discuss methods natural gas companies may use to mitigate the effects of direct and indirect greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions resulting from pipeline construction and expansion projects that are subject to Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) sections 3 and 7 authorizations by FERC (the “Conference”). The Conference included three panel discussions:  1) The Level of Mitigation for a Proposed Project’s Reasonably Foreseeable Greenhouse Gas Emissions; 2) Types of Mitigation; and 3) Compliance and Cost Recovery of Mitigation.

One of the threshold questions posed by the Commissioners, and a recurring theme throughout the conference, was whether FERC has the legal authority to consider GHG emissions as part of its certification process. Chairman Richard Glick asserted that FERC has authority to mitigate GHG emissions and that doing so will provide greater certainty for the industry, and expressed concern regarding FERC’s handling of the issue to date, given the flurry of recent decisions

FERC Staff Recommends Natural Gas Infrastructure Winterization Measures in Light of 2021 Extreme Winter Weather Events

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”), in coordination with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (“NERC”), presented its preliminary findings and recommendations at FERC’s Open Meeting on September 23 regarding its inquiry into the February 2021 Cold Weather Event in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (“ERCOT”), Southwest Power Pool, Inc. (“SPP”), and Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (“MISO”).

The February 2021 Cold Weather Event occurred from February 8 through 20, 2021, during which large numbers of generating units experienced outages, derates, or failures to start, resulting in energy and transmission emergencies. The power outages affected millions of customers throughout the ERCOT, MISO, and SPP regions. On February 16, 2021, FERC and NERC announced a joint inquiry to examine the root causes of the event.

The preliminary findings indicate that a majority of the unplanned generating unit outages, derates, and failures to start were due to natural gas fuel supply issues. The major causes of the decline in natural gas

Government Races to Secure Critical Infrastructure in Wake of Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack

One of the nation’s largest pipelines, Colonial Pipeline, which carries 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supplies, was forced to shut down on May 7 after it was targeted by a ransomware attack. Ransomware is a type of malware where criminal groups encrypt data, effectively “holding it hostage,” until the victim pays a ransom.

Colonial Pipeline resumed operations on May 15. However, the cyberattack has sparked public panic and outcry as parts of the country experience fuel shortages and fuel prices rise to their highest levels in nearly seven years. The incident has also renewed efforts government-wide to strengthen security of U.S. pipelines and the power grid. On May 11, the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce reintroduced bipartisan legislation aimed at bolstering the Department of Energy’s (“DOE”) ability to respond to cybersecurity threats to U.S. energy infrastructure. Among the several measures introduced were:

(1) The Pipeline and LNG Facility Cybersecurity Preparedness Act, which would require DOE to implement

State Climate Legislation Takes Aim at Natural Gas Industry

This is the second post in an ongoing series focused on how state and federal measures addressing climate and carbon reduction are affecting the natural gas industry. You can find the first post in this series here.

Nevada

In the latest effort to phase out or reduce the use of natural gas, a bill was introduced to the Nevada Legislature on March 23, 2021 (A.B. 380) that would set emissions reduction targets for buildings over the next 30 years to achieve a 95% decrease in emissions from buildings by 2050. The latest bill builds on Nevada’s 2019 climate strategy, which established a goal of economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050.[1]

The bill would direct the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (“Nevada PUC”) to open an investigatory docket to examine how gas utilities can assist the state in achieving its 2050 emissions goal and how gas utilities can maintain safety standards

The Natural Gas Industry in a Climate-Focused Future: Regulators Take Action to Adapt

Introduction

Climate change policies at the state and federal levels will have significant impacts on natural gas companies and their customers.  On the one hand, there is pressure on companies to maintain safe and reliable service – on the other, the push for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  These competing objectives will have notable effects on how companies conduct their long-term planning to maintain system reliability while avoiding potential stranded costs and safeguarding ratepayers.  This post and subsequent updates will focus on how federal and some state regulators are addressing the issues.

Federal

The Biden Administration’s clean energy plan, which calls for a 100% clean energy economy by 2035 and net-zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050, has sparked an increased focus on achieving these goals. To reach net-zero by 2050, the Biden Administration plans to invest $1.7 trillion in federal funds in clean energy research and modernization, deploy zero emission vehicles across the government, and enforce

Update: First Circuit Revises Prior Decision to Vacate Air Permit in Light of Material Developments

As discussed previously in Pierce Atwood’s Energy Infrastructure Blog, on June 3, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated an air permit issued by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the construction of a new compressor station proposed by Algonquin Gas Transmission (Algonquin) as part of its Atlantic Bridge natural gas pipeline project and remanded the matter to the agency for further analysis.  Town of Weymouth v. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, et al., No. 19-1794 (Jun. 3, 2020) (June 3 Opinion). Algonquin petitioned for panel rehearing as to the remedy only. On August 31, 2020, the Court granted Algonquin’s petition and revised its June 3 Opinion to remand without vacatur. Town of Weymouth v. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, et al.No. 19-1794 (Aug. 31, 2020).

When deciding whether to vacate the agency’s decision or remand without vacating, the Court considered the “severity