FERC says gasline filings still incomplete

While Alaska Gasline Development Corp. officials often tout the reams-worth of study documents they’ve submitted to federal regulators on the Alaska LNG Project, those regulators responded with a letter Thursday contending the state agency has refused to send information imperative to analyzing the $43 billion megaproject.

In a three-page letter to corporation executives — followed by 168 pages detailing AGDC’s alleged shortfalls to provide information for analysis and requests for additional data — FERC officials wrote the agency repeatedly requested study data from the state-owned corporation during the pre-filing review phase for the project’s environmental impact statement but “an adequate response has not yet been received.” FERC also expects further data on the project’s safety, reliability and engineering plans will be requested, according to the letter.

FERC, an Energy Department agency, is the lead body responsible for permitting LNG exports projects in the country.

AGDC filed its EIS application for the Alaska LNG Project with the agency last April. At nearly 60,000 pages, AGDC leaders said they believed it to be the largest EIS filing in the history of the National Environmental Policy Act process, which became the federal permitting standard for large projects nearly 50 years ago.

According to FERC, AGDC has said it will not provide certain study information because the studies are not required by the state or other entities, the letter states. Future responses by the gasline corporation that such information won’t be passed along because the state and other federal agencies don’t require it will be deemed incomplete and the requests will be made again.

“Certain requests ask for studies to be completed and provided, or information on the specific avoidance and mitigation measures that may be implemented by AGDC for the various proposed construction-related activities. Rather than providing specific avoidance and mitigation measures to be adopted or describing potential considerations if the construction schedule cannot be maintained, AGDC has deferred providing information to future plans or the permitting phase (e.g., through Alaska Department of Fish & Game Fish Habitat permit application or other processes),” the FERC letter states. “It is imperative that the information provided in AGDC’s responses include definitive commitments to implement specific avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures. Incomplete information or ill-defined commitments by AGDC may compromise our ability to adequately assess and disclose the full impact of the project.”

The agency asked for a complete response within 20 days, adding that the information is necessary to continue drafting the EIS.

Spokespersons for AGDC could not be reached Friday.

Leaders of the state corporation have been pushing for FERC to issue its schedule for the project since late last year and have said they hope the significant detail in the many volumes of studies filed in the application would help the agency finish the final EIS by the end of 2018.

In a Jan. 22 press release AGDC announced had responded to all of FERC’s 801 original data requests that were generated from the April filing.

AGDC President Keith Meyer has said the timeline, which he acknowledges is aggressive, is needed to keep the project on track to be in production in 2024-2025. That would allow the project to meet a demand window in a global LNG market that has been flooded with supply in recent years.

Of particular note among FERC’s specific requests attached to the letter are directives to study rerouting the roughly 800-mile gas pipeline to Valdez and ending it at Port MacKenzie — across Knik Arm from Anchorage — instead of AGDC’s preferred pipeline terminus and LNG plant site of Nikiski.

Meyer has said repeatedly the plan is to end in Nikiski, noting the state, BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil spent more than $600 million over the past five years evaluating the Nikiski route and changing to Valdez could take years of additional study time.

The corporation announced Feb. 8 that it would be opening a one-person office in Nikiski to better interface with area residents who will be directly impacted by the project.

The producers have also purchased about 650 acres of land in Nikiski to site the massive natural gas liquefaction plant and marine export terminal at the end of the 800-mile gas pipeline. AGDC is in negotiations to purchase or gain access to the property.

The state is also planning to reroute the Kenai Spur Highway, which currently bisects the planned LNG plant site.

Previous efforts to export North Slope gas have evaluated a route to Valdez; the final EIS for the Trans-Alaska Gas System released in 1988 determined Valdez to be preferable over Cook Inlet, according to FERC.

“AGDC indicated that the difference between the Valdez delivery option evaluated in 1988 and the current alternative alignment is that the Delta and Gulkana Rivers were designated as Wild and Scenic Rivers on December 2, 1980, subsequent to the issuance of the 1988 final EIS, and that the approvals necessary to cross these rivers are an excluding factor,” FERC asserted in its attachment to the Thursday letter. “However, the TAGS final EIS evaluated the Delta and Gulkana Wild and Scenic Rivers along the Valdez delivery option and concluded that ‘there would be no direct impacts to the Gulkana and Delta Wild and Scenic River areas since the route would not cross the designated portions of these rivers.’”

The Alaska Gasline Port Authority, comprised of the City of Valdez and the Fairbanks North Star Borough, urged FERC about a year ago to consider routing the Alaska LNG Project to Valdez as it would provide natural gas along the Richardson Highway corridor and save the Fairbanks Borough up to $100 million to build the 30-mile spur line needed to get gas from the large line under the current alignment, local officials said at the time.

More recently Mat-Su Borough officials asked FERC to consider Port MacKenzie Jan. 9. According to a Friday borough press release AGDC dismissed a Port MacKenzie alternative but incorrectly identified a shallow-water site in its filings about 4 miles north of the actual port, which has naturally deep water.

Mat-Su officials contend ending at their port could save the project up to $3 billion because the pipeline — about 50 miles shorter — would not have to cross the bottom Cook Inlet and as such would be environmentally safer as well.

“The Mat-Su Borough fully supports this worthy (gasline) effort and simply requests that our deep draft port be considered, as promised,” Mayor Vern Halter said in a formal statement.


Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

02/21/2018 - 11:33am