A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Environmental groups petition court for review of order approving abandonment of gas pipeline

Three environmental groups filed a Petition for Review with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on January 31st asking the Court to review a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approving the abandonment and repurposing of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP), owned by energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan.

The petitioning organizations, Kentucky Resources Council, Allegheny Defense Project, and Kentucky Heartwood, argue that the FERC failed to give adequate consideration to the unique safety and environmental risks posed by approving the repurposing of a 24” diameter, 70+ year-old natural gas pipeline for transporting heavier, more volatile natural gas liquids (NGLs).

Natural gas liquids are hydrocarbon byproducts of oil and gas extraction. The “fracking boom” in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia has created a glut of these materials, which are used in the plastics and other industries. FERC approved the “abandonment in place” of one of Tennessee Gas’ natural gas pipelines; the first step in Kinder Morgan’s plan to reverse the flow in order to transport NGLs to processing and export facilities on the Gulf Coast. The pipeline traverses 6 states and 18 Kentucky counties.

Particular concerns have been raised in Kentucky, with the pipeline passing through populated areas of Richmond in Madison County and Danville and Herrington Lake in Boyle County. Both counties have passed zoning requirements relating to hazardous liquids pipelines in order to have some say in whether or not hazardous liquids pipelines are compatible with existing land uses.

The pipeline also poses risks to the exceptional biodiversity of the Green River upstream and through Mammoth Cave National Park. The river provides habitat for 151 species of fish, with 29 mussel and fish species that are considered imperiled or vulnerable, and 7 listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Unlike natural gas, a portion of the NGLs can leak or spill into surface and groundwater and soil, causing serious and lasting environmental impacts.

The petitioners filed a Request for Rehearing with FERC last October. FERC failed to issue a decision on the Petition for Rehearing, instead issuing a “tolling order,” stating that the request was being reviewed but not decided upon. FERC-issued tolling orders allow pipeline projects to move forward while delaying citizen’s timely access to judicial review. The Petitioners believe that the failure of FERC to act within the time allowed for a decision on rehearing, set by Congress, made the underlying decision to approve the pipeline abandonment immediately subject to judicial review.

Over the course of FERCs environmental analysis, more than 900 comments were submitted, almost entirely opposed to the project. Among those expressing concern were the Madison County Fiscal Court, the Clark County Fiscal Court, the Boyle County Fiscal Court, the Marion County Fiscal Court, the Barren County Fiscal Court, Kentucky State Senate Majority Whip Jimmy Higdon, the Bluegrass Areas Development District, the Danville-Boyle County Chamber of Commerce, the City of Danville, the Danville Independent School District and Danville Schools Board of Education, and the Rowan County Board of Education.

“The reversal and conversion of this pipeline to transport NGLs will further induce fracking in Pennsylvania, fragmenting our forested watersheds with more roads and well pads,” said Ryan Talbott, executive director of the Allegheny Defense Project. “FERC, however, refused to even consider those impacts before approving Kinder Morgan’s proposal. Such a short-sighted, industry-friendly review may benefit Kinder Morgan’s bottom line but it comes at the expense of Pennsylvanians’ right to clean water and intact forests.”

From Kentucky Environmental Foundation

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