FERC sets December 2019 deadline for AK LNG review

Federal officials analyzing the plans for the Alaska LNG Project issued a timeline March 12 that would extend the review about a year beyond what state officials were hoping for.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Secretary Kimberly Bose signed off on the environmental impact statement schedule that calls for the agency to issue a Notice of Availability for the final Alaska LNG Project EIS by Dec. 9, 2019. The subsequent record of decision would then be made by March 8, 2020, within the required 90-day period after the final EIS is published.

FERC plans to have the draft EIS out for comment next March, according to the filing.

Alaska Gasline Development Corp. leaders in mid-November requested the schedule be published by Dec. 15. President Keith Meyer has said repeatedly he wanted the final EIS out late this year to match the corporation’s proposed timeline of having commercial agreements in place for an early 2019 final investment decision with construction starting late next year.

The schedule is still fungible depending on how the EIS drafting plays out, but the self-imposed timeline does set a significant precedent.

Meyer said at the March 8 AGDC Board of Directors meeting that a slower schedule, such as the one FERC just published, would set back actual construction but the agency and its contractors could start ordering numerous long-lead items in anticipation of a favorable decision ahead of official final approval to build the $43 billion project.

On AGDC’s ideal timeline the first train of the three-train 20 million tons per year LNG plant would be in service in 2023 and production would ramp up over the next couple years as the other trains would be constructed and brought online by 2025, according to Meyer.

However, AGDC officials said in formal statements March 13 that they are happy to have a schedule to work from.

“Achieving clarity on the permitting timeline is another critical step forward for the project; AGDC is appreciative to FERC and to the (Trump) administration for their continued commitment to keeping this project on the fast track,” Meyer said. “A draft EIS in March 2019 with availability of a final EIS in December 2019 will allow us to keep Alaska’s gas export project on track for a 2024-25 in-service date. FERC’s expeditious and comprehensive analysis of our application is a testament to the hard work and dedication of commission staff.”

Gov. Bill Walker thanked FERC for issuing the schedule and said it’s a “major step forward that establishes clarity and predictability in the federal permitting process, which is critical for investors.”

AGDC filed its EIS application last April — nearly 60,000 pages of environmental, engineering and socioeconomic data believed to be the largest EIS filing in history. It was hoped the immense amount of data, along with the fact that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing a final supplemental EIS for the smaller, backup Alaska Standalone Pipeline project, which largely mirrors the AK LNG route, would allow FERC to meet the agency’s aggressive schedule.

On Jan. 22 AGDC announced it had responded to all 801 of FERC’s questions regarding the initial filing information, but on Feb. 15 the regulators followed up with 288 more; directing AGDC to further examine routing the pipeline to Port MacKenzie or Valdez instead of the Nikiski, the LNG site chosen by the producers in 2013.

AGDC leaders insist the new round of questions is not uncommon in the often back-and-forth process, and they expect more as FERC continues to evaluate the tremendous amount of data for the project.

EIS public scoping meetings to determine what all regulators should evaluate were held in late 2015 under the former ExxonMobil-led project structure. The next major step under a standard EIS development would be for FERC to issue a preliminary draft EIS for cooperating federal agencies to review and comment on.

Subsequent to that, the resulting draft EIS would be issued, initiating a public comment period of at least 45 days — on very large or contentious projects it is often longer — and associated public meetings.

FERC would then respond to the appropriate comments and incorporate them into the final EIS publication, after which a minimum 30-day waiting period must be held before a record of decision on the project is reached.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

03/14/2018 - 1:19pm