March 8, 2017

FERC Updates Environmental Report Preparation Guidance for Natural Gas Projects

Holland & Knight Energy and Natural Resources Blog
Dianne R. Phillips

Late last month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) updated its 2002 guidance documents on how to prepare resource reports and demonstrate compliance with certain regulatory requirements for liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects. The guidance manual was revised to incorporate changed regulations, consolidate prior draft memos and guidelines, and improve overall consistency and quality of data analyses to facilitate FERC's implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and compliance with other federal statutes such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act

The guidance manual is divided into two volumes. Volume 1 relates to the preparation of resource reports for both interstate natural gas projects and FERC jurisdictional LNG facilities. Volume 2 is specific to LNG facilities and replaces prior FERC memos and guidelines from 2005 through 2007 related to preparation of Resource Report 11 (Reliability and Safety) and Resource Report 13 (Engineering and Design Material). This includes seismic design considerations and hazard exclusion zones found in the siting requirements of 49 C.F.R. Part 193 (incorporating NFPA 59A) which requirements have been the subject of various interpretations and administrative rulings since 2004. 

Volume 2 of the guidance manual is intended to update and consolidate the current siting requirements based on FERC's experience with LNG projects since the 2005-2006 time frame, as well as recent collaborations with the Fire Protection Research Foundation, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) related to exclusion zone modeling. Like other guidance documents, these do not have the force of law and do not replace the regulatory requirements. They are, however, instrumental, is assisting project proponents with navigating the FERC pre-filing process found in 18 C.F.R. § 157.21.

Although FERC did not publish a response to comments with its Notice of Availability published in the Federal Register (82 Fed. Reg. 12088, Feb. 28, 2017), the final guidance manual reportedly incorporates comments received during the comment period, Dec. 18, 2015, through Jan. 29, 2016, which can be found in Docket AD16-3-000.

Approximately thirty comments were received from a variety of stakeholders including other federal agencies (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration), industry groups and trade associations (American Petroleum Institute, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, and Natural Gas Supply Association Center for Liquefied Natural Gas), environmental NGOs (West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Sierra Club, Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Sabin Center for Climate Change Law), and several pipeline and LNG companies (Spectra Energy Partners, LP, WBI Energy transmission, Inc., Northern Natural Gas Company, Columbia Pipeline Group, The Williams Companies, Inc., Cheniere Energy, Inc., and Alaska Gasline Development Corporation). Given the variety of commenters, it is clear that this topic is of acute interest to many.

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