The Environmental Review Process for New Pipeline Construction

Energy independence for the United States has many in the country very excited. However the need to construct thousands of miles of pipelines to bring shale gas to market has left others concerned for the safety of our environment. What impact could this have on our beautiful landscape and resources?

The construction and operation of petroleum pipelines are heavily regulated to help ensure safety and to minimize the impact to the local environment. Two federal organizations, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a division of DOT, are responsible for the oversight of the environment and public safety as related to the transmission of, among other things, natural gas and petroleum liquids. These organizations set and enforce standards to help ensure that existing and new pipelines will function according to plan with as little impact to the local environment as possible. Depending upon the location of the proposed route, additional governmental agencies such as the U.S. EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Native American Tribal governments, and the respective State and Local governments may all be involved in the approval of a pipeline project.

In order to construct and maintain new and existing pipelines, oil and gas companies must complete a thorough evaluation of the proposed pipeline route and associated land/water bodies to be disturbed for a project. In addition, these companies may need to apply for an assortment of permits from the agencies listed above. These evaluations and permits may include any of the following depending upon the location of the project:

  • Clean Water Act and the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System
  • Clean Air Act
  • National Historic Preservation Act of 1966
  • Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974
  • Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972
  • Endangered Species Act of 1973
  • Executive Order 11988 (May 24, 1977) requiring federal agencies to evaluate the potential effects of any actions it may take on a floodplain
  • Executive Order 11990 (May 24, 1977) requiring an evaluation of the potential effects of construction on wetlands
  • Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
  • National Wilderness Act
  • National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978
  • Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
  • Erosion and Sediment Control Plan/Permit
  • Site Access Road Permitting
  • Stream Crossing Permitting
  • Road Boring Permits
  • Municipal Zoning Ordinances/Approvals (noise, building setbacks etc.)

While some companies perform these studies and obtain permitting with their own internal staff experts, others contract firms like Apex Companies to perform these services on their behalf. In either case, a comprehensive process must be conducted prior to any land disturbance in the field—reviewing the potential impact that the disturbance may have on a vast number of environmental facets that surround the project. Issues identified in any of the surveys must be modified or mitigated prior to receiving approval from the agencies that are responsible for the protection of those natural resources. Completion of this review and approval process can range from weeks to years.

So the next time you read about a new proposed pipeline, rest assured that there are many agencies and organizations reviewing every aspect of the project to protect our natural resources.

For additional information on the FERC and PHMSA: https://www.ferc.gov/, http://www.phmsa.dot.gov/

Contact your local gas company for additional information on “right of way” pipeline safety.

Apex Associated Press (Apex AP) represents contributions from various authors within the Apex professional community.

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