On Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) held a workshop, hosted by Commissioner Philip Moeller, discussing natural gas pipeline siting and stakeholder involvement. The workshop emphasized the importance of pipeline companies collaborating with stakeholders during the environmental review and certification process. Commissioner Moeller stated that the workshop was not only an excellent learning opportunity for others in the natural gas industry, but was also extremely timely since Congress may soon expand the Commission’s authority to the electric industry so that it matches the siting authority it currently has within the natural gas industry.
The first session of the workshop used CenterPoint Energy’s (“CenterPoint”) Carthage to Perryville Pipeline Project as a case study. This project delivered approximately 1.2 Bcf of natural gas from northeast Texas to eastern Louisiana in a post-Hurricane Katrina environment. The presentation included the following points of emphasis on CenterPoint’s outreach program:
- Setting outreach program goals early, including developing relationships with stakeholders and landowners, was crucial.
- CenterPoint benefited greatly from creating a well-organized, diverse outreach team that retained all of its members throughout the process and focused on being responsive to stakeholders’ questions and issues.
- CenterPoint used multiple venues, including open houses, letter writing campaigns, web access for frequently asked questions, a toll-free hotline, and local media, to stay in contact with participants.
- CenterPoint used the Commission’s participation as a means to improve stakeholder involvement.
CenterPoint stated that the Commission’s role as the lead agency in siting issues for natural gas pipelines has been successful so far because it sets a clear pathway for the project and defines the various roles of each participant.
The second session at the workshop had a panel of outreach experts from FERC and the natural gas industry talk about the outreach process during each phase of the siting process. Commission staff stressed the importance of natural gas companies keeping FERC up to date and well informed so that they could ensure stakeholders and landowners alike that their interests are being represented.
Meanwhile, representatives from the natural gas industry on the panel made it clear that the outreach program begins even before the pre-filing process starts and continues after a project’s application has been certified. Additionally, the industry representatives stated some of the keys to outreach programs include training outreach employees, working with local and state officials on a continuing basis, and creating well-defined goals for the program early on in the process. Finally, while none of the representatives from the natural gas industry could affirmatively say that a similar structure would work well in the electric industry, the panelists agreed that the current structure has been beneficial to the natural gas industry and has received a favorable reaction from the financial sector.
A copy of the Commission’s notice of the workshop can be found at: http://www.ferc.gov/EventCalendar/Files/20090526100358-AD09-6-000a.pdf. Additionally, the workshop can be viewed at: http://www.capitolconnection.gmu.edu/ferc/ferc.htm. Interested parties may also submit comments within 30 days.