It appears that the proposed pipeline would be a large interstate pipeline connecting with an existing Spectra Energy gas pipeline network in Pennsylvania in the Marcellus Shale area. Apparently, the pipeline would transport fracked natural gas south to North Carolina, perhaps to fuel electric power plants.
The proposed route for the pipeline has not been specifically identified. An original map issued by Spectra Energy shows a potential routing in the eastern part of the County, basically following the high voltage electric power lines.
It is important to note that the pipeline would not necessarily be built along that route, for that is subject to further study and approval. Moreover, even if that is the case, it may result in an expansion of the existing right-of-way.
Another Route map has subsequently emerged taking the gas pipeline along the east side of Rte 729 (Richmond Road) below Ben Venue.
The pipeline project appears to be at its early public stages. It may not yet be mentioned on Spectra Energy’s listing (on its website) of proposed gas pipeline projects that it is currently undertaking. Also, Spectra Energy has not started the approval process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the lead federal government agency with approval authority for the pipeline.
Spectra Energy is a very large, diversified natural gas and oil pipeline company based in Houston, Texas. It owns and/or operates over 19,000 miles of existing natural gas pipelines in the US and Canada.
Spectra Energy is a Fortune 500 company and trades on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2013, it had $5 billion in revenues, $1 billion in net income and assets of $33 billion.
Further information regarding Spectra Energy can be found at the following links:
FERC is the lead federal agency that must approve the both the construction and the specific location of the proposed pipeline. FERC determines whether the project is deemed to be in the “public interest”, looking at both commercial and environmental issues. While FERC is a regulator, at the end of the day its mission is to facilitate and regulate pipeline construction, not prevent it.
In addition, the pipeline will need to obtain state-level environmental and siting permits, as well as other permits from other federal agencies (e.g., for crossing rivers and wetlands, etc.). It does not appear that there are any required County-level permits or approvals.
Spectra Energy would initiate the FERC process by filing a formal application for a FERC “certificate” authorizing the pipeline, which application would identify the specific route being proposed. FERC would then examine the proposed route, as well as objections thereto and/or alternatives proposed by others. FERC would also prepare an environmental study of the pipeline and proposed route. FERC indicates that it normally takes between 1-2 years from the filing of an application before its approval is issued.
It appears there are 2 separate ways for RLEP, other organizations or concerned citizens to participate in the FERC proceeding. The first -- more informal -- is to submit a letter to FERC expressing a position on the environmental issues related to the project; this would allow RLEP and otehr organizations and citizens to receive all environmental-related materials submitted by all parties to the proceeding as a matter of course. The second -- more formal -- is to “intervene” in the proceeding and become a formal party; this would allow RLEP and others to file briefs, attend hearings, appeal decisions, etc.
FERC’s authority and process is described in more detail in the FERC-prepared pamphlet.
Typically, Spectra Energy would attempt to voluntarily obtain the necessary easements and rights of way before filing its application with the FERC, so the proposed route to be examined is known specifically and land acquisition costs are known. Clearly, there is the potential for certain landowners to be “holdouts”, either refusing to let the pipeline cross their land or objecting to the specific compensation offered by Spectra Energy.
Once being issued a FERC certificate, however, Spectra Energy would have the right under federal law to use eminent domain powers to take necessary easements/rights of way from holdout landowners against their will, with compensation ultimately settled by the relevant courts. In other words, holdouts cannot stop the pipeline from using their land once it is approved by FERC. However, they still have the right to a trial with the opportunity to obtain an award for damages.
To the extent you have any additional information concerning the proposed pipeline, please pass that along to RLEP. In particular, if you have been approached directly by Spectra Energy regarding the pipeline, or if their personnel or contractors come onto your land, please let us know. Last (but by no means least), if you have any particular experience or expertise that could assist RLEP in monitoring or evaluating the proposed pipeline, please get in touch with us.
For our part, the RLEP team will continue to monitor further developments and confer with other interested parties. We will endeavor to keep you informed of any significant new information that comes to our attention.