On May 31st, I attended my first Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) public scoping meeting, for the proposed Adelphia Gateway pipeline. Having been to many pipeline public meetings, I had a clear mental image of how it would go: chairs arranged in rows, one or two microphones, stoic officials behind a table, residents reciting the same concerns they had and would repeatedly voice. The scoping meeting was four hours long, with speaking registration open until the last hour. Meg, a fellow member of environmental justice group EDGE Philly, drove us down to Essington, volleying facts and questions to prepare our comments.
The scoping meeting was down a narrow hallway guarded by two police officers in bulletproof vests. The room had a series of tables and posters on easels with a few staff milling about. Residents who wanted to give oral testimony could do so privately in a separate room. At the sign-in desk, I noted that at almost three hours in, they’d had only three speakers.
Some of the technical, highly process-focused FERC literature available at the scoping meeting
Some background on the Adelphia Gateway Pipeline project:
The Adelphia Gateway Pipeline would be an 90-mile natural gas pipeline curving from Northampton County, Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook area. 88.4 miles of the pipeline are already in the ground—a 18” – 20”-diameter pipeline that originally carried oil northwest from Marcus Hook. The northern 34-mile section was previously repurposed to carry gas, and the lower 50 miles would also be converted to carry gas. Adelphia Gateway would include two entirely new 16”-diameter segments: the 4.5-mile Tilghman Lateral and the 0.25-mile Parkway Lateral in Marcus Hook, Trainer, and the edge of New Castle, Delaware. Converting and expanding the pipeline for natural gas would require adding infrastructure including eight blowdown assemblies, pig launchers, connection/offtake points, six meter stations, and two compressor stations.
Because the Adelphia Gateway pipeline is an interstate natural gas pipeline project, most of its permitting is done through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC is a quasi-governmental agency funded by the projects it permits. To get FERC approval, projects are supposed to demonstrate “necessity” and that they are “in the public convenience.” Since 1999, FERC has only rejected two out of 400 pipeline projects.
FERC’s summary for the Adelphia Gateway project describes it as providing “about 175 million standard cubic feet of natural gas per day to the greater Philadelphia industrial region with potential to serve additional markets in the northeast.”
In February and March, several local grassroots groups made a herculean push to register potentially impacted residents as intervenors, meaning that they would receive updates on the project from FERC and have a more formalized voice in the permitting process. The registration process is short but complex and confusing. Grassroots organizers have taken on FERC’s responsibilities here, and publicize instructions and offer trainings to help residents register.
EDGE Philly's informational video encouraging residents to intervene and stay informed
Adelphia’s initial application was long but void of critical details such as the contracted buyers for the natural gas, its end destinations and use, and a sincere analysis of whether the pipeline met a public need. On May 29th, and partly in response to concerns raised by residents, FERC sent a letter to Adelphia with a long list of critical questions about their application. These questions came a day before FERC’s two consecutive public scoping meetings for the project.
At the public scoping meeting, Meg and I asked the FERC representatives some of the most urgent questions about the pipeline: Who was buying the gas? With a destination at Marcus Hook, was this project connected to Mariner East 2 petrochemical processing and export? How would they permit building a new compressor station in heavily polluted Marcus Hook?
The view of the proposed site of the proposed compressor station in Marcus Hook, across from the first in a row of residential homes.
In response, the FERC staff insisted that the application already had the answers to our questions. “They’re required to include that information in order to submit an application,” said the woman who was later identified as the project manager for FERC’s environmental assessment. She named PECO as one of the customers in the application. I replied that Exelon, owner of PECO, had submitted a letter saying they had never been consulted about the project before the application and were concerned that Adelphia might try to seize their land. The staff looked at the docket again. There was no document listing PECO as a customer, but there was the letter I referenced.
After a while of this kind of back-and-forth on various questions, Meg chose to hand-write a comment to submit. I wanted my comment transcribed and typed, so I became the fourth and last person to give oral comments at this major public meeting. According to FERC’s official materials, “It is important to note that verbal comments hold the same weight as written or electronically submitted comments.” After I finished talking, the FERC staff told me that fewer than 10 people total had commented that night, and about 30 had commented the night before.
As the FERC staff led me back into the main room, I heard the police officers musing that they’d expected disruptive protests in the line of Beyond Extreme Energy’s many protests at FERC’s Washington, D.C. office. Meg and I returned home even more disillusioned by the public commenting process, but with the satisfaction that we’d made a difference by showing up and commenting at an otherwise deserted public meeting.
Comments were due the next day, June 1st, at 5 p.m. Sometime between that night and midday on June 1st, Adelphia submitted 172 pages of data in response to FERC’s list of questions. On June 1st, much of the FERC website was offline for most of the day.
On June 18th, Adelphia submitted its responses to organizations’ and resident’s comments from the scoping process. I noticed that my name wasn’t in the document and checked the docket.
My comment was not transcribed, and it was never entered in the docket. Nor were the verbal comments by the other residents I know. As of July 3rd, the comments had not been entered on the docket--nor had Adelphia revealed its customers for the pipeline's gas.
FERC and Adelphia can't erase our concerns with a single stroke of bureaucracy, though. If you want to learn more or get involved, contact PSR Philadelphia. We'll also share more about the Adelphia Gateway Pipeline and FERC on this blog.