The federal oil and gas permitting processes for interstate
pipelines drew mixed reviews on May 3 as witnesses and
members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s
Energy Subcommittee discussed whether they need to be
reformed or are operating as intended. The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is the designated lead
agency under the 1938 Natural Gas Act, consults with other
federal agencies and state regulators before it issues permits
for such projects.
Committee Republicans called for reforms. “I suspect that
many of these witnesses will tell us what we already know:
Getting these projects done is an incredibly difficult process.
They need to be reviewed, and they need to be safe,” said
Pete Olson (Tex.), subcommittee vice-chairman.
Ranking Minority Member Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) disagreed.
“The legislation before us streamlining natural gas pipeline
permits appears to offer us a solution in search of a prob-
lem,” he said. “An examination shows that between 2009
and 2015, over 100 projects were approved spanning over
3,700 miles in 35 states with a total capacity of more than
35 bcfd. An overwhelming 91% of applications were decided
within 12 months.”
FERC’s staff uses a systematic, efficient, and collabora-
tive process to review proposed interstate gas projects, said
Terry L. Turpin, who directs the commission’s Energy Proj-
Language in a legislation discussion draft before the
subcommittee would require early outreach to other permitting agencies to identify and address issues, Turpin
said. “This also would allow those agencies to have input
into the development of the project and identification of
potential of project issues, when their advice is most valuable,” he said.
“However, some of the proposed [Natural Gas Act] mod-
ifications would alter the commission’s role from one of
collaboration with its fellow agencies to an oversight role,
monitoring other agency execution of their congressionally
mandated duties,” Turpin said. “I am concerned that this
will require the use of [FERC] resources that could be bet-
ter spent analyzing the proposed projects and could lead to
unproductive tension between the agencies involved in the
Problems have grown
But other witnesses said delays in getting federal pipeline
permits have grown worse. “Federal permitting agencies are
taking longer, and, in some cases, are electing not to initiate
reviews until FERC has completed its review of a proposed
pipeline project. These disjointed, sequential reviews cause
delays and, in some cases, create the need for supplemental
environment analysis,” Interstate Natural Gas Association of
America Pres. Donald F. Santa testified.
Santa said INGAA supports designating which agencies
are participants in the National Environmental Policy Act
process, providing a clear demarcation between the NEPA
process and concurrent reviews, making clear to agencies
when a permit is ready to be processed, and making agencies accountable when they miss deadlines.
The association also backs the discussion draft’s provi-
sion that allows agencies to consider remote surveys’ data.
“Many permitting agencies require submission of extensive
ground survey data before an application can be reviewed.
However, access to all potential rights of way often cannot be
obtained to conduct such surveys,” Santa said. “For example,
landowners may refuse to grant such access. Project devel-
opers can find themselves in a dilemma because they cannot
collect the data needed to submit a permit application.”
The discussion draft’s provision, which established con-
Federal pipeline decision-making
gets mixed reviews at hearing