Sunday, March 30, 2014

HR 4293 and S 2112 Introduced – Pipeline Approval

As I noted earlier Rep Cramer (R,ND) introduced HR 4293, the Natural Gas Gathering Enhancement Act. The bill would amend various Federal laws to make it easier to get timely approvals to run natural gas gathering lines on federal lands. This is a companion bill to S 2112 that was introduced earlier this month by Sen. Barrasso (R,WY).

Congressional Findings

Section 2 of the bill sets out the ‘facts’ that make the passage of this bill necessary. The two key findings are:

• Large quantities of natural gas are lost due to venting and flaring, primarily in areas where natural gas infrastructure has not been developed quickly enough, such as States with large quantities of Federal land and Indian land {§2(2)}; and
• Permitting processes can hinder the development of natural gas infrastructure, such as pipeline lines and gathering lines on Federal land and Indian land {§2(3)}.

General ‘Right-of-way’ Authority

Section 3 of the bill amends 16 USC 79 adding natural gas pipelines as one of the ‘public utilities’ for which the Secretary of the Interior has the authority to permit rights of way through the public lands, forest and other reservations of the United States.  Interestingly, while this is a general authority, it also quite specifically applies to “the Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant national parks, California”.

NOTE: Someone really needs to re-write this entire section to make it grammatically correct, easier to read and less confusing. For example the way this amendment was crafted would make the section read “…for electrical plants, poles, and lines for the generation and distribution of electrical power for natural gas pipelines [emphasis added],”. This would technically limit the authority for establishing rights-of-way for ‘electrical plants, poles and lines’ to those supporting natural gas pipelines; certainly not the intention of the crafters of the bill.  

Energy Policy Act of 2005

Section 4 of the bill would add two section to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (PL 109-58):

§319 Certain natural gas gathering lines located on Federal land and Indian land; and
§1841 Natural gas gathering system assessments.

Section 319 adds the definition of ‘Federal land’ which specifically excludes {§319(a)(2)(B)}:

• Units of the National Park System;
• Units of the National Wildlife Refuge System; or
• Components of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

It also excludes gathering lines from requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 if they will be within a field or unit already covered under “an approved land use plan or an environmental document prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 432 et seq.)” {§319(b)(1)(A)} and will be located “adjacent to an existing disturbed area for the construction of a road or pad” {§319(b)(1)(B)}.

Finally, this new section provides a veto authority to Governors {§319(b)(2)(A)} and Indian Tribes {§319(b)(2)(B)} to prevent the Secretary from establish rights-of-way on specific lands under their jurisdictions.

Section 1841 would require the Secretary of the Interior to undertake a study on any further actions that can be taken under current Federal laws and regulations to expedite the permitting process for gas gathering lines and associated field compression units. The study would also be required to determine what changes could be made to make the permitting process more expeditious.

Following the completion of the study the Secretary would be required to report to Congress on the findings. The report would also include progress made on expediting the permitting process as required by this proposed legislation.

Permitting Deadlines

Section 5 of this bill would amend 30 USC 185 Rights-of-way for pipelines through Federal lands by adding paragraph (z), Natural gas gathering lines. This would establish the following deadlines for the Secretary to issue “a sundry notice or right-of-way”:

• 30-days for a gas gathering line and field compression unit described in §319(b) of this bill {§185(z)(1)}; and
• 60-days for all other gas gathering lines and associated field compression units {§185(z)(2)}.

Section 6 of this bill would add similar requirements to 43 USC 1764  General requirements (Rights of Way).

Moving Forward

There is nothing in either HR 4293 or S 2112 that would be a significant impediment to their passage. Unfortunately, there is also nothing to commend either bill to expedited handling as they would have little positive effect on most congressional districts. This late in the election cycle there is little chance for either bill to advance unless Cramer and/or Barrasso can attract the favorable attention of the leadership of the Committees given jurisdiction (The Natural Resources and the Agriculture Committees in the House and The Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the Senate). The two-committee assignment in the House makes moving the bill forward even more difficult.

If either (or both) bill makes it out of Committee, the bills would almost certainly be considered on the floor under the abbreviated procedures available for non-controversial bills (Unanimous Consent in the Senate, Under Suspension of the Rules in the House) if the respective leadership could be convinced to bring the bill to the floor.

In a perfect world, I would like to think that environmental groups would get behind these bills since the vented or flared natural gas is a contributor to global warming, but these groups are not going to support anything that makes hydrocarbon drilling more effective.

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