People's Dossier of FERC Abuses: Climate Change and Drilling Impacts Ignored
FERC Fails to Give Due Consideration to the Climate Change and Drilling Impacts of Pipeline Projects
Despite the mandate of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that federal agencies take environmental considerations into account in their decision-making “to the fullest extent possible” (42 U.S.C. § 4332; 40 C.F.R. § 1500.2; Fla. Audubon Soc. v. Bentsen, 94 F.3d 658,684 (D.C. Cir.)) FERC routinely fails to meet its obligation to consider foreseeable drilling and fracking impacts directly resulting from its pipeline approvals, including water impacts, air impacts, community impacts and effects on climate change.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has explicitly commented that FERC should consider impacts from the development and production of natural gas being transported through a proposed pipeline, as well as considering impacts associated with the end use of the gas, particularly with regards to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change effects. (Attch 4) And yet FERC continues to ignore both the input of EPA and the mandates of NEPA.
This failure to consider impacts of the induced drilling operations and end uses of the gas these pipelines deliver is significant, particularly considering the scope of the induced activities.
For example, in the case of the PennEast Pipeline (FERC Docket CP15-558) FERC failed to consider the emissions and other harms that will result from the shale gas production necessary to fulfill the claimed “need” for the project and to carry the volumes of gas proposed. The PennEast pipeline will likely induce the drilling of 3,000 new wells in Northeast Pennsylvania, in Bradford, Susquehanna, Lycoming, and Tioga counties. (Attch 1) Given recent estimates that “during the life cycle of an average shale-gas well, 3.6 to 7.9% of the total production of the well is emitted to the atmosphere as methane”(1) combined with the water, land, and community harms resulting from drilling operations, the environmental and community impacts ignored are massive.
FERC excludes consideration of induced drilling and end-use impacts from its NEPA review, despite having recognized that increased gas production will result from pipeline construction. For instance, FERC has recognized that a new pipeline would “alleviate some of the constraints on...natural gas production”. (Attch 2) Despite this acknowledgement, FERC fails to consider the direct production impacts resulting from pipeline development.
This failure to consider the impacts of induced shale gas production and its end uses is particularly troubling given that FERC has explicitly recognized that “upstream development and production of natural gas may be a ‘reasonably foreseeable’ effect of a proposed action.” Despite this recognition, FERC asserts that “the actual scope and extent of potential GHG emissions from upstream natural gas production is not reasonably foreseeable” and therefore no consideration pursuant to NEPA is necessary. (Attch 3) Through this circular logic of recognizing induced drilling but then discounting it because FERC has failed to assess the extent of the GHG emissions that will occur, FERC ignores its NEPA obligation to consider the impacts.
The only reason why FERC deems such impacts unforeseeable is because the agency itself chooses to remain purposefully blind. This kind of doublespeak – that shale gas production is reasonably foreseeable but at the same time it is not reasonably foreseeable – is used by FERC to arbitrarily limit its review of impacts.
- R. Howarth, D Shindell, R. Santoro, A. Ingraffea, N. Phillips, A Townsend-Small, Methane Emissions from Natural Gas Systems, Background Paper Prepared for the National Climate Assessment, Reference number 2011-0003, Feb. 25, 2012.
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