Earlier this year, the natural gas industry declared in an exuberant report that new pipelines will “uncork” the production bottleneck and create a second boom in Utica and Marcellus Shale development.
This vision is currently on stark display in Pennsylvania and Ohio. On a recent trip for Earthworks’ Community Empowerment Project, a colleague and I were dismayed to see pipeline cuts and compressor station scarring the landscape—including in areas absent of such activity several months ago.
It’s not yet clear whether even such rampant development will be enough make industry’s dreams come true. Opposition to pipeline projects is growing from Florida to West Virginia to Ohio to Massachusetts, including successful efforts to uphold landowner rights and limit financial risks to consumers.
Two weeks ago, New York State denied a water quality certification for the Northeast Access pipeline designed to bring gas from Pennsylvania, crossing nearly 200 streams and over 70 wetlands on the way. This was the second time the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) exercised its authority under the US Clean Water Act to deny a pipeline permit. Last year, DEC refused to issue certification for the even larger Constitution Pipeline, which would cross 250 streams and ecologically sensitive areas.
In both cases, DEC made clear that the pipeline companies had not conducted a thorough analysis of environmental impacts, nor developed sufficient plans to avoid them. The same issue was debated in court this week, with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) in the hot seat for ignoring climate change and environmental justice when reviewing pipeline applications.
FERC’s shoddy review of impacts is also evident when it comes to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), which would stretch nearly 600 miles across Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. As Earthworks and partner organizations recently stated in written comments on the project, FERC has failed to analyze climate change, air, and health impacts or determine whether the gas supplied by the pipeline is needed.
Upon his resignation in January, the FERC Chairman stated what so many had been saying: FERC has an obligation to consider how pipelines force more gas production, and in turn environmental and climate impacts.
Currently, FERC doesn’t have enough commissioners to hold votes. The Trump administration seems determined to fast-track pipeline projects nationwide—in particular the ACP, which would financially benefit members of the White House team. Yet if recent events are any indication, it’s still possible that pipeline proponents will have to put the cork back in the bottle and shelve their premature celebrations.