THIS IS NOT THE REPORT CARD AGDC WAS HOPING FOR
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission isn’t coddling the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation anymore. And it’s not giving the AKLNG project a trophy for participation.
In fact, FERC dished out a helping of “tough love” to Alaska’s gasline project last week.
In a long and detailed Feb. 15 letter to AGDC, FERC told the State of Alaska that its January answers to 801 questions FERC had asked in August were not up to grade level.
“To date, only minimal drafts, and in most cases just outlines, of these plans have been provided, and/or the development of the plans have been deferred to a later date…” FERC complained about the quality and completeness of AGDC’s responses to questions.
This was like the parent-teacher conference from hell: Johnny’s work was “unsatisfactory.”
FERC went on to say that an application that lacked answers to specific questions “will be considered incomplete.”
And without a complete application, there will be no ‘social promotion’ to a permit.
In addition, the federal authority said that AGDC must go back and do the engineering analysis and environmental workup for routing the gasline to either Valdez or Port MaKenzie. Right now, it’s headed to Nikiski, a destination chosen back when the project was being led by the commercial partners, not the State of Alaska.
That request alone is asking the State to scope out two more huge projects.
Last week’s letter and request for information from FERC is 170 pages long. The ask is enormous.
But the key point is that FERC says it has asked for specifics and has received generalities or a “none of your business” type answer from AGDC. And it’s clear that FERC is not amused.
The federal regulatory body is asserting that it needs studies that AGDC doesn’t think it needs, such as sediment modeling and health impact assessment.
According to the federal agency, if AGDC keeps sending back “not applicable” answers, FERC will keep sending the questions back, wrote James Martin, the project’s point person at FERC. This could go on for a while, if AGDC really thinks it can wear out the patience of the federal regulator.
“Per these regulations, I am informing you that any response from AGDC that states, ‘the information is not required by the state or other agency and will not be provided’ will be considered incomplete and reissued. Incomplete responses and the reissuances of requests for information will affect the schedule for completing the environmental review,” FERC’s Martin wrote.
“Rather than providing specific avoidance and mitigation measures to be adopted or describing potential considerations if the construction schedule cannot be maintained, AGDC has deferred providing information to future plans or the permitting phase (e.g., through Alaska Department of Fish & Game Fish Habitat permit application or other processes). It is imperative that the information provided in AGDC’s responses include definitive commitments to implement specific avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures. Incomplete information or ill-defined commitments by AGDC may compromise our ability to adequately assess and disclose the full impact of the Project.”
Martin is making it pretty clear that his agency is in control and has no intention of advancing the draft environmental impact statement without everything he has asked for.
FERC demanded that a complete response to its request for information should come within 20 days of the Feb. 15 letter. If information is not available, then FERC implied that preparation of the draft environmental impact statement would be likely be impacted: “You should be aware that the information described in the enclosure is necessary for us to continue preparation of the draft environmental impact statement.”
WHAT EXACTLY DOES FERC STILL NEED FROM AGDC?
AGDC’s original application to FERC contained 50,000 pages of material, including maps, engineering and design.
But FERC has given AGDC an 289-item punch list to complete, where it says AGDC’s original application fell short. The items needed are complex and will require time and money.
For example, the first item on the punch list is broken into eight parts:
a. Wildlife Avoidance and Interaction Plan (see also Wildlife data requests). Provide confirmation that AGDC would incorporate the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s (FWS) Polar Bear Interaction Guidelines (Non-Department of Interior Guidelines, November 2010) and Polar Bear Deterrence Guidelines (last updated March 2017) into the Project-specific Wildlife Avoidance and Interaction Plan.
b. Marine Mammals Monitoring and Mitigation Plan (see also Marine Mammal data requests)
c. Revised Restoration Plan (see also Vegetation and Soils data requests)
d. Groundwater Monitoring Plan (see also Groundwater data requests)
e. Noxious/Invasive Plant and Animal Control Plan
f. Fugitive Dust Plan (see also Soils data requests)
g. Public Land Use and Recreational Use Coordination Plans, or the equivalent, to provide site-specific information on each of these areas proposed to be crossed and measures to reduce impacts on these areas. The response to data request No. 17 for Resource Report 8, dated December 29, 2017, indicated that AGDC would develop these plans after the final environmental impact statement (EIS), but before construction. However, FERC needs site-specific information on the construction and operation of the proposed facilities in these areas, as well as measures to reduce impacts, in order to complete the draft EIS.
h. Site-specific plans for residences within 50 feet of Project workspaces. The response to data request No. 10 for Resource Report 8, dated December 29, 2017, indicated that AGDC would develop these plans prior to construction. FERC requires these plans to complete the draft EIS in order to provide all affected landowners the opportunity to comment on the plans.
CAN AGDC DO IT IN 20 DAYS?
On Nov. 16, AGDC ‘got out over its skis’ and asked FERC to speed up review and take action on its application. It believed it would get an environmental impact statement in 12 months for the biggest permitted project in North American history.
But the State agency had not even submitted its answers to the 801 questions it received from FERC after filing its application in April.
In December, AGDC President Meyer wrote that the agency had “asked federal officials to publish a schedule for Alaska LNG’s Environmental Impact Statement process immediately.”
That is an unusual ask, since the federal agency was still waiting for its 801 answers.
And in January, the Alaska agency said it had given FERC its final answers and postured that it was ready to go: “AGDC expects FERC will determine they now have the information necessary to complete their analysis and will soon publish a schedule for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process in the federal register that outlines the activities over the next year to develop a draft EIS and a final EIS. The outcome of this NEPA process will be a FERC order that authorizes AGDC to construct Alaska LNG.”
In January, Meyer characterized his agency’s status as having achieved a milestone: “Today’s accomplishment, on top of recent commercial agreements, is a clear signal to the markets that Alaska LNG is on track to deliver energy stability at competitive prices by 2024/2025.”
That was not how FERC saw it.
FERC’s Feb. 15 response to AGDC was sobering in both its tone and in the scope of items still missing from the application. The Chinese ‘investors’ will, no doubt, be taking a keen interest.
To date, AGDC and the Governor’s Office have issued no response to the letter that has, for the moment, left them speechless.