FERC Approves TC Energy's 1,377-Mile West Coast Pipeline Expansion

(P&GJ) — Despite strong opposition from environmental activists and high-ranking officials in West Coast states, federal regulators have granted approval for a significant expansion of a natural gas pipeline in the Pacific Northwest, KTVB 7 reported.

This project, known as GTN Xpress, is set to bolster the capacity of the Gas Transmission Northwest pipeline, which spans across Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, facilitating the daily transportation of approximately 150 million cubic feet (4.2 million cubic meters) of natural gas.

TC Energy argues that this expansion is essential to meet rising consumer demands. The 1,377-mile (2,216-kilometer) pipeline originates at the Canadian border, traverses a portion of Idaho, and extends into the states of Washington and Oregon before connecting with a pipeline bound for California.

The decision came as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted in favor of the expansion on Thursday.

The pipeline is owned by TC Energy, a company based in Calgary, Canada, which was previously responsible for the now-defunct Keystone XL crude oil pipeline.

TC Energy's plan includes modifications to three compressor stations situated along the pipeline in Kootenai County, Idaho; Walla Walla County, Washington; and Sherman County, Oregon. These compressor stations play a pivotal role in maintaining gas pressure and flow over extended distances within the pipeline.

Officials representing Washington, Oregon, and California have collectively implored federal regulators to reject the project, citing concerns that it would undermine their states' ongoing efforts to reduce emissions as part of the fight against climate change, according to KTVB 7.

The attorneys general of these three states referred to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's draft environmental impact statement, which estimated more than 3.47 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year for at least the next three decades. Although the agency's final environmental assessment later reduced this estimate by about half, this revision remains a point of contention with environmental advocacy groups.

Following the vote, agency Chairman Willie Phillips reiterated their position.

"There was no evidence presented that this project would significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions,” he told KTVB 7. “The commission determined that this project was needed and therefore we support its approval.”

In a joint letter sent to the federal agency the day before the vote, Democratic U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, along with Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, described the project as "incompatible with our climate laws."

The senators told KTVB 7 that " GTN Xpress represents a significant expansion of methane gas infrastructure at a time when California, Oregon, and Washington are moving away from fossil fuels." Additionally, they expressed concerns about TC Energy's safety record, citing a recent explosion in Virginia and an oil spill in Kansas.

The decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has faced criticism from environmental organizations.

“FERC failed to listen to Senators, Governors, State Attorneys General, Tribes, and the public in its rubber stamp of unnecessary fracked gas in the Northwest,” Audrey Leonard, staff attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper, an environmental nonprofit, said in a statement obtained by KTVB 7.

She argued that potential spills and explosions on the pipeline, built in the 1960s, pose not only environmental risks but also increase the threat of wildfires in the arid regions it traverses. Columbia Riverkeeper intends to appeal the regulators' decision and submit a petition for a rehearing.

In its final environmental impact statement for the project released in November, the federal agency asserted that the compressor stations were situated in non-forested areas with a low to moderate fire hazard.

It concluded that the project "would result in limited adverse impacts on the environment.” The agency recommended certain measures, such as requiring the company to provide environmental mitigation training for its personnel and contractors before commencing construction.

Nevertheless, environmental groups argue that the assessment falls short in addressing the overall harm resulting from the project, particularly regarding the fracking processes used to extract the natural gas transported through the pipeline.


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