GAO: Gas line permitting has multiple steps, varying time frames

Interstate and intrastate natural gas pipeline permitting can involve multiple steps and varying time frames, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report. It conducted the Feb. 15 study as required by the 2011 Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act, but issued no recommendations.

The congressional watchdog service evaluated the process necessary to obtain interstate and intrastate gas pipeline permits, time frames associated with that process, and management practices stakeholders identified that might improve the permitting process.

GAO said it reviewed relevant laws and regulations and interviewed federal officials, state officials from a nonprobability sample of 11 states, and representatives from gas industry associations and public interest groups.

It said permitting processes were more consistent for interstate pipelines because they are led by the Federal Energy for Regulatory Commission than for intrastate systems because states’ approaches vary. GAO said most of the 11 states it studied do not designate a lead agency, similar to FERC’s role in interstate applications, to coordinate implementation of laws and regulations.

Researchers also found that federal requirements can affect time frames for intrastate as well as interstate gas pipeline permit application processing, it added.

Federal and state agency officials, industry associations, and public interest groups said that several management practices could help overcome challenges they associated with an efficient permitting process and obtaining public input, according to GAO.  The suggestions included:

• Ensuring a lead agency is coordinating the efforts of federal, state, and local permitting processes for intrastate pipelines.

• Ensuring effective collaboration of the numerous stakeholders involved.

• Providing planning tools to assist companies in routing pipelines and avoiding sensitive environmental resources.

• Offering pipeline applicants the option of funding contractors or agency staff to expedite the permitting process.

• Increasing the opportunities for public comments.

A spokeswoman for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America told OGJ on Feb. 20 that while GAO made no recommendations in its pipeline permitting report, the INGAA Foundation did in its Dec. 21, 2012, study of whether agencies are complying with the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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