A Kentucky-based company is seeking approval from federal authorities to build a natural gas pipeline under the Ohio River to bring out-of-state fuel to non-existent power plants.
Hoosiers and advocacy groups are concerned about the pipeline’s environmental effects and whether its approval could set back a transition to clean energy.
Texas Gas Transmission LLC is project asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval to build a 24-mile pipeline extension to connect two proposed natural gas-fired power plants at CenterPoint Energy Inc.’s A.B. Brown Generating Station in Posey County to a network of interstate natural gas pipelines.
The company is asking FERC to approve the project, which would extend from Robards, Kentucky to Evansville, Indiana via an underwater crossing under the Ohio River, without performing an environmental impact statement.
Texas Gas said the project would facilitate a substantial net reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions, the heat-trapping gases responsible for man-made climate change.
“FERC should determine that an environmental impact statement is not necessary to evaluate whether the Project will result in adverse climate change impacts because the Project will cause a substantial net reduction in methane, NOx, and carbon monoxide emissions resulting from the retirement and transitioning to standby of existing reciprocating compressor units on Texas Gas’ system and a reduction of indirect, downstream GHG emissions from the replacement of coal-fired generating facilities at CenterPoint’s AB Brown Plant with new-gas fired turbines and renewable resources,” Texas Gas wrote in its application to FERC.
The company’s assertion is based on the assumption that the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission will approve CenterPoint Energy’s petition to build the two natural gas combustion turbines the pipeline would eventually fuel.
CenterPoint Energy, formerly known as Vectren, is seeking to replace two coal-fired electric generating units it is retiring at the A.B. Brown plant.
The IURC has not approved CenterPoint Energy’s petition for a Certificate of Need, the certification necessary to begin construction of a project, and the possibility remains that the commission may ultimately deny the petition.
The commission denied a similar petition from the company in 2019, saying the project would be too much of a financial risk for its customers.
Groups like the Citizens Action Coalition oppose both the natural gas turbines and the pipeline.
“We object to the notion of expanding the marketplace for fossil fuels in our state,” said CAC executive director Kerwin Olson. “If we are serious about transitioning to a clean energy future that that does not rely on fossil fuels, why would we even consider building and expanding the infrastructure to deliver fossil fuels to our state? That seems counterintuitive to the ultimate goal of achieving 100% clean energy.”
Olson said the projects could actually increase the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere instead of reducing it, despite both company’s claims.
“We should look at both downstream and upstream emissions, because what we're talking about is gas that is going to be extracted in Texas and in Arkansas, delivered by the pipeline all the way to Southern Indiana to a power plant,” Olson said.
Natural gas is mostly made up of methane, a potent greenhouse gas dozens of times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that methane accounts for 10% of all greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S. Natural gas and oil systems make up 30% of all methane emissions.
The EPA does not measure methane emissions from the oil and gas industry directly. Instead, its estimates are based on the processes used to extract and transport the fossil fuels and what equipment is used.
New research into atmospheric methane columns over North America points to the EPA undercounting actual the gas industry’s methane emissions by at least 22% and the oil industry by 35% every year.
Beyond climate impacts, Evansville residents said they were concerned about the projects’ effect on their quality of life and the environment.
One resident wrote to FERC about the air quality at her home. She urged the commission to order Texas Gas to undertake an environmental impact assessment to ensure the project would not further degrade the area’s air quality.
“July 21, 2021 I couldn’t sleep due to coughing. Despite HEPA filters on my furnace and a room purifier, I could not get my bedroom air clean,” the woman wrote. “With the changing climate, those pollutants become more harmful to health and need to be assessed along with the emissions of the proposed pipeline and gas plants to determine accurate health impacts for Evansville residents.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that Texas Gas assess the potential impact of the project on 15 endangered and threatened species. The agency said the company should also determine the project’s effect on bald eagles and migratory birds.
The IURC scheduled an evidentiary hearing for CenterPoint Energy’s petition Dec. 9. Attorneys for the CAC and the Sierra Club, Hoosier Chapter have pushed to move the hearing to January 2022.
FERC is currently accepting public comments on the proposed Texas Gas pipeline until Aug. 30.
To comment, you can submit a request at the FERC site. The commission will then send a link for comments to the email supplied. Commenters should ensure to include docket number CP21-467-000.
Comments can be submitted by using the eFiling feature on the FERC website. Registration is required before eFiling can be used.
Comments can also be submitted by U.S. Postal Service to: Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street NE, Room 1A, Washington, DC 20426.