Group Says FERC Can't Review Gas Facility As 'Routine'

Law360 (March 24, 2021, 2:16 PM EDT) -- The Columbia Riverkeeper is fighting a TC Energy unit's bid to build a new compressor station in northern Oregon, telling the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the facility is part of a larger effort to bulk up the company's natural gas capacity and is not just "a routine activity."

In a protest and motion to intervene filed with the agency Monday, the environmental group told FERC that TC Energy Corp.'s Gas Transmission Northwest LLC is seeking permissions to build a new compressor station in northern Oregon under a blanket certification intended only for routine activities, not expansion activities with significant environmental repercussions.

Columbia Riverkeeper said the agency's cursory environmental review of the proposed Coyote Springs Compressor Station was not sufficient as it did not address "the climate change impacts that will result from the increased capacity on the system." The group argued FERC must treat the project as what it is — new capacity — and review not only the proposal for a new compressor but also how it plays into TC Energy's entire planned expansion project under Section 7 of the Natural Gas Act.

"As evident in TC Pipelines' investor calls, the construction of a new compressor station is more than just a routine activity — rather the compressor station is intended to expand the capacity of the pipeline to deliver more gas to more private companies," the group said in its protest. "The GTN XPress expansion project is not about serving the public interest, it is about increasing the profits for TC Pipelines and its investors."

In an environmental assessment filed last week, FERC staff said it determined that the project as described in the application "would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment." But Columbia Riverkeeper told FERC the assessment never discusses the climate change implications of the increased capacity afforded by the compressor station and larger expansion project.

Erin Saylor, an attorney for the Columbia Riverkeeper representing it before FERC, told Law360 on Wednesday that the group believes the added capacity of 250,000 dekatherms per day expected from the expansion project could supply enough natural gas to power 2,000 additional industrial facilities per day. That should have been contemplated by FERC, she said.

"If this was FERC's attempt at a [National Environmental Policy Act] analysis it was insufficient because it did not consider the downstream climate impacts of the industrial users that would be using this gas," Saylor said.

The staff environmental assessment was published just three days before the commissioners' announcement during their monthly meeting that the agency assessed a project's reasonably foreseeable greenhouse gas emissions and their contribution to climate change when reaching their decision to approve a Berkshire Hathaway unit's pipeline replacement project.

FERC's position change has led experts to wonder if FERC can use its new approach to review larger projects that involve entirely new gas pipelines or significantly boosting pipelines' capacity, including determining whether GHG impacts are significant.

According to TC Energy's website, the Gas Transmission Northwest pipeline currently runs 1,378 miles and transports Canadian natural gas to Washington, Oregon and California. The $335 million expansion project would allow the pipeline system to handle an additional 250,000 Dth/d of product and is expected to go into operation between 2021 and 2023. Compressor stations, like the one proposed by TC Energy, provide the pressure pipelines need to carry natural gas over long distances.

Columbia Riverkeeper urged FERC to conduct a full environmental impact analysis under NEPA of the "direct and indirect environmental effects of the project — including the downstream carbon emissions that the expanded pipeline capacity will create." The group also told the agency the Oregon regulator's decision to grant an air permit to the project doesn't absolve the federal agency of doing its due diligence.

Representatives for TC Energy didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. FERC declined to comment on the ongoing proceedings.

Columbia Riverkeeper is represented by its own Erin Saylor.

TC Energy is represented by its own Richard Bralow.

The FERC proceedings are Gas Transmission Northwest LLC Docket No. CP21-29-000 & CP82-530-000 before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

--Editing by Marygrace Murphy.

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