The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday approved two natural gas pipeline projects and the expansion of a gas storage facility, a boost to the industry as the commission reviews its much-debated gas policy statement.
The commission issued certificates to: Berkshire Hathaway’s Kern River Gas Transmission Company in Utah and Wyoming; TC Energy’s Wisconsin Access Project in the Midwest; and Spire Storage West’s Clear Creek Expansion Project in Wyoming.
Richard Glick, the Democratic chair of the commission, pointed out the Berkshire Hathaway project would result in net-negative greenhouse gas emissions because it would replace coal-fired power with natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal.
The project proposes to build a 36-mile pipeline from Wyoming to Utah for the Intermountain Power Project that is being converted from coal to natural gas and hydrogen. The line will be able to transport up to 140,000 dekatherms of gas.
Green Light For Gas
The orders demonstrate the push by the commission’s Democratic majority to consider greenhouse gas emissions earlier this year—which generated blowback from industry and politicians—could lead to gas infrastructure approvals, Glick said.
“Some people said, ‘Oh, if you consider climate change, if you consider the greenhouse gas emissions impact of the pipeline, you’re going to kill the pipeline,’” Glick said at the start of the commission’s monthly meeting.
“That’s simply not true, and I think this case is a good example of that,” Glick said.
Allison Clements, another Democratic commissioner, agreed the three gas projects should be approved, but pressed for the commission to finalize its gas policy statement as soon as possible.
Under any policy framework the commission would adopt, the Kern River project’s greenhouse gas emissions “would certainly be deemed insignificant as they are a net reduction,” Clements said.
Mike Loeffler, a spokesman for the Berkshire Hathaway project, said developers were “pleased” with the decision on the project, which he said “will provide needed energy with reduced greenhouse gas emissions to communities in both Utah and California.”
But Clements called for stronger reviews of projects such as the Clear Creek Expansion Project in Wyoming, joining Willie Phillips, the third Democrat on the commission, in a joint concurrence.
The $244 million project seeks a five-fold expansion in its gas storage field, which is positioned along five interstate pipelines and would serve a continued appetite for natural gas, Spire Storage West, a subsidiary of Spire, a St. Louis-based gas utility, has told the commission.
“As a matter of policy, I believe the commission should call for stronger evidence that the project is needed and will be built,” Clements said.
“This is particularly true in instances like this one, where there is a heightened risk that there is going to be the use of eminent domain to acquire property rights necessary for construction and operation,” she said.
The commission is awaiting reply comments on the revised gas policy statement. Phillips said earlier this month he wants at least one Republican commissioner to sign onto the policy.
The approvals rankled environmental groups that have expressed concern about locking in fossil fuel infrastructure, even if it comes with lower emissions. Activists have ramped up opposition to the commission’s approval of pipelines and liquefied natural gas terminals that can replace dirtier-burning fuels like coal and oil in other countries.
“FERC needs to recognize that to meet our climate goals, just being better than coal isn’t good enough,” said Nathan Matthews, a senior attorney for the Sierra Club. “The nation needs to get off all fossil fuels, whenever possible and as quickly as possible, and approving more gas infrastructure only moves us further from those goals.”
The decisions were a positive signal to the gas industry, which has been pressing the commission to more quickly act on project applications. TC Energy, a Canadian energy company, urged the commission in January to issue decisions on several of its proposed projects, which had already been through environmental reviews.
Speaking with reporters following the meeting, Glick noted that the commission had worked through most of the gas projects that had been before the commission for more than a year.
The Spire Storage West project is a “critical component of U.S. energy infrastructure,” Jason Merrill, a Spire spokesman, said in an email.
“As demand continues to grow for the affordable and reliable form of energy natural gas provides, Spire Storage is well suited to meet the evolving energy needs of the western U.S.,” Merrill said.
TC Energy didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
The Sierra Club has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Environment is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.
—With assistance from Naureen Malik (Bloomberg News).