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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sierra Club official comments on ET Rover Pipeline submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)

Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street NE, Room 1A
Washington, DC 20426

Dear Ms. Bose,

The comments submitted below are pursuant to the scoping process for the proposed ET Rover Pipeline (Docket #PF14-14-000).  These comments are submitted on behalf of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, 109 E Grand River Avenue, Lansing, MI 48906.

Nancy Shiffler
Chair, Michigan Beyond Natural Gas and Oil Committee

December 16, 2014

There is little in this proposal that reflects a “balancing of public benefits with residual impacts.”   This pipeline is part of an attempt by the natural gas industry to find a market for its over production in the Marcellus play in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, in particular to expand exports.  There is no demonstrated need for additional natural gas capacity in Michigan or in the region in general, while the impact on the safety, economic value, and environmental health of local property owners and communities would be considerable.

Public Convenience and Necessity
•      In determining the proper scope of an EIS under NEPA, an agency must consider cumulative and similar actions (40 C.F.R. 1508.25).
-          “Cumulative actions” are defined as actions which, when viewed with other proposed actions, have cumulatively significant impacts and therefore must be discussed in the same EIS (40 C.F.R. 1508.25(a)(2)).  There are at least eight existing pipelines crossing between Canada and the Eastern US and six new pipelines and pipeline expansions planned, and a total of 57 new pipelines and expansions approved or pending flowing in all directions.  FERC should consider the cumulative impact of all of these proposed pipelines, including both environmental impacts and the rate of depletion of the resources themselves.
-          “Similar actions” are actions which, when viewed with other reasonably foreseeable or proposed actions, have similarities that provide a basis for evaluating their environmental consequences together (40 C.F.R. 1508.25(a)(3)).  There are a number of proposed and existing pipeline projects that would fit this definition, including the proposed Spectra Energy Nexus pipeline, which runs parallel to the proposed Rover pipeline through Ohio and Michigan, with similar starting points and the same endpoint, and the TransCanada ANR East project which makes use of similar terminals.  The relative impacts of all of these projects should be considered together. 
-          Also relevant to this issue is the June, 2014, decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, et. Al. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, which noted FERC’s responsibility to consider cumulative impacts.  FERC should consider the cumulative impacts of the entire length of the Rover pipeline and the activities that produce the gas to be transported through the pipeline.

•      Michigan does not need this line.  It already has considerable existing inflow capacity and outflow capacity from existing pipelines  (EIA State to State Capacity, 2013 -- www.eia.gov/naturalgas/data.cfm#pipelines).

•      Michigan has more than sufficient underground natural gas storage capacity to lessen any additional need to meet seasonal demands (www.eia.gov/state/print.cfm?sid=mi).

•      In 2013 Energy Transfer and FERC agreed that no additional pipeline capacity was needed in the Midwest, when ET proposed abandoning their Trunkline natural gas pipeline (FERC Order to Approve Abandonment, CP12-491-000, 2013).  In that order FERC agreed that the company had provided sufficient evidence that current needs could be met with existing infrastructure without the continuation of the Trunkline capacity.  FERC further ruled that comments projecting future increased needs if coal plants were converted to natural gas plants were merely speculative.  We concur with that conclusion, in that future energy needs could also be met with continued growth of energy efficiency and renewables (www.michigan.gov/documents/energy/ee_report_441094_7.pdf and www.michigan.gov/documents/energy/renewable_final_438952_7.pdf).  Any analysis of future natural gas needs in Michigan should also consider the impact of renewables and energy efficiency on those needs.

•      Jobs projections are always speculative, and projections for one project can also be met or exceeded by other projects.  The ET Rover’s projection of 3,000 temporary Michigan jobs for pipeline construction can be met or exceeded by the 100,000 jobs projected from increasing energy efficiency and renewable standards (www.micef.org/index.php/documents), or the jobs created by repairing or replacing our existing aging pipeline infrastructure.

•      Given ET’s current debt status and current market conditions, FERC should consider whether  ET has the capacity to actually complete this project.  (http://www.dallasnews.com/business/energy/20140923-at-energy-transfer-shale- boom-brings-big-growth-and-big-debt.ece

Adverse Environmental Impacts
•      Because the final proposed route is still being determined as the deadline for scoping comments approaches, the public may not have adequate opportunity to comment on the actual route.  FERC should extend the opportunity for public comment once the final application is filed.

•      The EIS should include an analysis of the impacts of all the alternative routes, including the Spectra Energy Nexus and the ANR East routes and a no action option, to address the concerns listed below.

•      The proposed route crosses through several watersheds in Michigan, including the River Raisin, the Huron River, the Flint River, the Clinton River, the Belle River, and the St. Clair River.  The EIS should address the impact on these rivers and their fisheries, including the health of the watersheds and the potential impact of invasive species.  Of particular note in the proposed St. Clair River crossing is a fish spawning reef currently under construction (joint project with Fish and Wildlife Service) and designed to provide a spawning area for sturgeon (a threatened and endangered species), whitefish, and walleye.  The fisheries in the St. Clair River are connected by fish migration to both Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair.  The St. Clair River Flats, downstream from the proposed route, is one of the largest fresh water deltas in the world.

•      Depending on the final route, there is potential harm to a number of important wetland and natural areas in Michigan, including the Irish Hills area in Lenawee County, Pinckney Recreation area in Washtenaw and Livingston Counties, and Metamora/Hadley State Recreation Area, Ortonville State Recreation Area, and Sutherland Nature Center in Genesee County, among others.  The EIS should provide an accounting of the total acreage of wetlands that would be affected by each alternative.

•      Likewise, the EIS should provide an accounting of the acreage of forests and woodlots that would be affected by the alternatives.  A number of landowners in rural areas have commented on portions of the route passing through farmland woodlots, orchards, vineyards, and nurseries, with no opportunity for restoration since trees cannot be planted within pipeline rights of way.  Consideration should also be given to the potential for the spread of diseases such as the oak wilt virus if forest and woodlot health is affected.

•      In rural areas, there has been insufficient consideration of the impact on farmlands, including farmer’s access to farm fields during construction and inadequate restoration of topsoil during reclamation.  Temporary plugging or damage to drainage ditches and underground tiling could have affects extending beyond the construction area.  Particular attention must be paid to protection for existing conservation easements, Fish and Wildlife Services contracts for resource conservation, USDA-NRCS Conservation Stewardship and Grassland Reserve Programs, and timber stand improvement contracts.

•      The alternatives should also be assessed for impacts on state and federal threatened and endangered species, including a habitat suitability survey along each route.  For Michigan, the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (www.mnfi.anr.msue.edu/explorer/search.cfm) provides the listings for each of the counties on the proposed routes.

•      As part of its environmental review, FERC should estimate the green house gas impacts from the production, transport, and usage of the gas, including methane leakage from the production sites, the pipeline and compressor stations, and the CO2 releases from increased burning of natural gas.  This analysis would be in line with the President’s recently announced targets to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

•      In addition to methane and CO2 emissions, FERC should also calculate other emissions, including benzene, VOCs, arsenic, radium, and other chemicals.

•     Finally, FERC should consider the potential environmental impacts of increased use of hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus region as a result of the new markets targeted by this and similar projects.  These impacts include: air and water quality (http://files.dep.state.pa.us/OilGas/BOGM/BOGMPortalFiles/OilGasReports/Determination_Letters/Regional_Determination_Letters.pdf);  health impacts (Concerned Health Professionals of New York. (2014, December 11), Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction) (2nd ed.). http://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/); and worker safety (http://www.eenews.net/login?r=%2Fenergywire%2F2014%2F10%2F20%2Fstories%2F106000753).

Adverse Impact on Landowners and Local Communities
•      Safety impacts are of paramount concern.  The required setbacks from homes and other buildings are insufficient to account for the potential impact radius in the event of an explosion.   The EIS should analyze the safety risks posed by the number of residences within the projected impact radius of the pipeline.

•      Many rural areas are served by small fire departments backed by local volunteer fire fighters, which would be stretched thin in the event of a major explosion or fire.  The EIS should assess the response time and capacity for communities along the route.

•      Local government concerns over the impact of heavy equipment on local roads and bridges must be addressed.  The EIS should assess the potential costs to local communities.

•      Individual landowners are rightfully concerned with the impact of the project on their property values, access to mortgages, and insurance coverage.  Estimates of these costs should be available from previous pipeline construction projects.

•      Landowner complaints have arisen during the pre-filing process concerning the behavior of survey crews and lack of advance information from the company.  Such behavior does little to instill confidence that the company would follow through properly during construction, reclamation, and maintenance in the future.

Thank you for the opportunity to present these concerns.  We look forward to your responses to all of the comments, which have been submitted during this scoping process.

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