Tips for natural gas pipeline permitting

Natural gas pipelines generate jobs and energy security. (Photo courtesy of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline)

Natural gas pipelines generate jobs and energy security.
(Photo courtesy of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline)

As shown in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, “Drilled, Baby, Drilled,” America’s energy production turn-around during the past decade has been stunning:

“The magnitude of the [U.S. energy] boom is remarkable. [The U.S. is] close to overtaking Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s leading oil producer. In 2006 the U.S. imported 12.9 million barrels a day of crude and petroleum products. By last October that was down to 2.5 million a day.”

The Journal offered some solid explanations for America’s unprecedented success in developing domestic energy sources.  This growth has occurred across the energy spectrum and as a result, we are fast approaching energy self-sufficiency.  The benefit accrues not only to our economic prosperity, it also helps national security by reducing our reliance on other countries’ exports.

But while our march to national energy self-sufficiency is well-documented, there is a problem that threatens this growth and it cannot be resolved solely by market forces. Simply put, increased energy production requires increased pipeline capacity.  Yet there continue to be significant challenges in gaining Federal permit approvals to construct key natural gas pipelines.  Unfortunately, there are no more simple natural gas pipeline projects and, therefore, no simple permit approval processes.

The Trump Administration has prioritized streamlining the Federal permitting process.  As beneficial as this emphasis has been, the Federal permitting process, as provided in existing Federal law, must still be met.  Meeting these requirements involves satisfying technical and policy requirements of numerous Federal laws covering natural gas pipelines. These include the Natural Gas Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Marine Resources Protection Act, Archeological and Historical Protections Act. Also important and a frequent issue for pipeline permits are Native American Treaties.

Going forward, pipeline permit applicants who want to secure permit approvals while minimizing delays should remember these key lessons:

  1. Early in the permit process, the applicant should organize a project management team that includes personnel with expertise in Federal permit requirements. It is vital that the technical experts and those charged with gaining permit approval develop a collaborative working relationship.

Remember: The permit process is as much based on building trust with the permitting agencies as it is in completing required studies.

  1. Before the proposal is finalized, it is important to develop proper business relationships with appropriate Federal agency permit personnel.
  1. It is important to build sufficient time in permit application’s proposed implementation schedule to perform adequately necessary studies stemming from the permit approval.

There is no silver bullet but with a proper strategy, pipeline applicants can reduce the problem of costly delays during the permit approval process.

Rob Vining
Senior Advisor

A member of the Dawson team since 2012, Rob formerly served as the U.S. Army’s Chief of Civil Works Programs, Management Division.

Dawson & Associates is pleased to offer this blog as a forum for our colleagues to comment on timely issues. These commentaries reflect the diverse backgrounds and opinions of our team and do not necessarily reflect the views of our company or others affiliated with it.