One of the consequences of the shale gas fracking boom in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations has been a dramatic increase in natural gas infrastructure projects (pipelines, underground storage fields, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities). When a company wants to build a new pipeline, expand an existing pipeline, or build an LNG export facility, it must get approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which has jurisdiction under the Natural Gas Act over the interstate transportation and sale of natural gas. Importantly, FERC can only authorize a gas infrastructure project if it makes a determination that the project is in the "public convenience and necessity." Part of that determination requires FERC to seek ways to avoid the "unnecessary disruption of the environment." Unfortunately, FERC routinely rubberstamps gas infrastructure projects without seriously considering their long-term environmental consequences.
Since 2008, FERC has approved thousands of miles of new and expanded pipelines in the United States. Many of these pipelines are in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions to help facilitate fracking in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations that underlie Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.
These maps reveal that the gas industry and FERC are working hand-in-hand to quickly and dramatically expand pipeline capacity for increased fracking in Pennsylvania. This is consistent with FERC's stated objective in its most recent "Strategic Plan" to further increase natural gas pipeline capacity. (See page 17 of the Strategic Plan).
Each time FERC approves a new pipeline or a new LNG export facility, it is encouraging further fracking in shale formations like the Marcellus and Utica formations. Unfortunately, whenever FERC reviews a pipeline or LNG project, it refuses to consider the reasonably foreseeable environmental impacts of related shale gas drilling and fracking activities. In other words, FERC treats the gas infrastructure projects under its jurisdiction (pipelines and LNG facilities) in a vacuum and refuses to consider the broader environmental impacts caused by shale gas drilling and fracking. Under federal law, however, FERC has an obligation to consider not only the environmental impacts of projects under its jurisdiction, but also the indirect and cumulative effects of related actions, which obviously includes shale gas drilling and fracking activities. Analyzing the combined impacts of both the infrastructure under FERC's jurisdiction and the related impacts of shale gas drilling and fracking is critical to understanding the full scale of the shale gas boom at the landscape level and whether all the new infrastructure development is in the "public convenience and necessity." As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently stated, "by any responsible account, the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children, and future generations, and potentially on the public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction." Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 83 A.3d 901, 976 (Pa. 2013). It is FERC's responsibility to analyze and disclose these "detrimental effects" to the public before authorizing any additional infrastructure.
Allegheny Defense Project is keeping a close eye on gas infrastructure projects that come before FERC for authorization. Below are some of the projects that we have intervened in and provided comments to FERC. We will keep you posted on the status of these projects as they proceed through FERC's environmental review.
Allegheny Defense Project