The pipelines are located primarily in Appalachia and central Ohio, but also include 17 states (See map page 12). The scale of the management program is unprecedented, and the permit would cover a half mile- corridor on either side of a pipe.
The significance of the permit program is that while natural gas production booms in Appalachia with the opening of the Marsella shale gas fields (See related article), pipeline management and expansion could become easier. Whether it will be more or less environmentally friendly is open to debate.
According to NiSource (Columbia Gas) company, the blanket permit would bypass case-by-case environmental impact statements for gas pipeline maintenance and expansion. Instead, the US Fish and Wildlife Service would issue a single “blanket” permit for habitat conservation plans that would also cover “incidental take” of endangered species.
US Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the basic concept is sound. A more integrated, larger scale conservation plan will help endangered species along pipeline routes.
“In the past, they would typically address these species on a piecemeal basis,” said Forrest Clark, a USFWS program manager. “For us it’s a way to get more conservation on the ground.”
For the pipeline companies, it’s more rational to deal with the problems across the board in a large project.
“This project is unique in its scale and scope,” said Mark Haney, vice president of AMEC, a NiSource engineering contractor, in an article published in Pipeline & Gas Journal in December. “Its scale, which includes numerous stakeholders and agencies across so many states, is unheard of. Its scope, which involves multiple species addressed simultaneously by one program, has never been attempted on this level.”
But where the Fish and Wildlife Service sees more conservation planning, NiSource sees savings.
“Instead of each time we do a project looking for endangered bats, it would be a lot more economical to be able to have a blanket certificate,” Kelly Merritt, a spokesman for NiSource’s Columbia Gas Transmission, told the Charleston WV Gazette in November 2007.
The conservation plan will be released later in 2008 and an environmental impact statement will be prepared sometime over the next year, Clark said.