Groups raise questions about natural gas pipeline
By Ericka Pizzillo

Public hearing set to take more comment on Canadian project

The Bellingham Herald
18 February, 2002

The Bellingham environmental group RE Sources wants a proposed natural gas pipeline across Whatcom County to be put on hold until the federal government reconsiders an alternative route through Canada - where the gas would be used.

The concern about the pipeline's route through Whatcom County is echoed in various responses by local residents and government agencies to a draft environmental review of the proposed 85-mile Georgia-Strait Crossing Project pipeline by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Williams and British Columbia Hydro proposed the pipeline to fuel two power plants on Vancouver Island. FERC will make the final decision on the project.

Inadequate research

The responses also include criticism of what many called inadequate research of the impacts the pipeline would have on wildlife, including fish in the waters between Cherry Point, where the pipeline would enter the water and Vancouver Island, where the pipeline would deliver natural gas to fuel two power plants.

The responses will be used by FERC to revise the environmental review, which is used to determine if the project's construction will be approved.

The most pointed criticism of FERC's review of the project came from the Environmental Protection Agency, which said FERC failed to consider all the environmental effects of the project, including where the pipeline crosses into Canada.

EPA asks questions

EPA officials wrote that even though a Canadian agency is reviewing the environmental impacts of the project on the northern side of the border, some of the Canadian analysis should have been included in the U.S. review.

In addition, EPA officials wrote that the review "falls short" in other ways, including being silent on whether the project would serve the public's interest and inadequately evaluating how current and proposed protected marine areas along the project route would be affected.

For example, the EPA criticizes FERC's requirement that before construction begins, the pipeline company create a conservation plan to protect against destroying habitat of the marbled murrelet. The bird is listed as "threatened" on the federal Endangered Species List. EPA officials wrote that a conservation plan should be done before the project is approved and should be included in the environmental review.

Crabbing concern

RE Sources expressed concern about the project's impacts on the state's crabbing industry. The areas in the Puget Sound where the pipeline will be laid along the sea floor could interfere not only with the movements of crab, but also crabbing operations, RE Sources wrote.

"None of the trade associations that I have spoken with were consulted about the implications of the proposed route on the fishing industry," wrote Robyn du Pre, the North Sound Baykeeper with RE Sources.

The environmental review also fails to account for impacts on the Great Blue Heron colony at Cherry Point and ground fish around the San Juan Islands, where the pipeline will pass, du Pre wrote.

"Stating that the pipeline will not adversely affect these species because they 'can swim away' is close to absurd," du Pre wrote about the FERC's statement in the environmental review.

Alternative routes

Many of those who wrote, including du Pre, said the environmental review did not fully consider alternative routes through Canada - especially since all the natural gas will be used there.

"There is a foregone bias in the analysis that the U.S. route is the correct route even though local governments and federal agencies have suggested a non-Whatcom County route," wrote Sheila Helgath, a Seattle resident who owns in property along the pipeline's proposed route on Haveman Road, north of Lynden.

In the review, FERC discounted alternative routes through Canada because of unstable land and because suggested routes would bring the pipeline closer to more developed areas than exist in northern Whatcom County.

U.S. sales possible

Despite no specific information in the environmental review about providing gas in the United States, Williams spokeswoman Beverly Chipman said the company wants to eventually sell natural gas to customers in Whatcom County.

The current proposal before FERC would allow only enough gas to fuel the two Vancouver Island power plants - including one to be built by B.C. Hydro. But Chipman said the companies could later appeal to FERC to increase the compression in the pipeline, allowing additional natural gas to move through the line. If approved, the companies could sell the gas to companies in Whatcom County.

Chipman said Williams has met with local companies interested in purchasing natural gas from the line, but no contracts have been signed. Chipman declined to name those companies.

Problems last year

B.C. Hydro ran into problems with the project in Canada late last year when city officials in Port Alberni did not rezone land where the company wanted to build a power plant that would be fueled by the pipeline.

The government-owned company is now focused on two sites in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island for the plant, said Shawn Thomas, B.C. Hydro's senior vice president.

Thomas said B.C. Hydro is expected to make a decision on the plant's siting by late May.

The second plant the pipeline would service, owned by a private company, has already been constructed on the Campbell River.

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