By: Foster L. Peebles
There are over 2 million miles of pipelines used to transport products such as natural gas and petroleum products worldwide.[i] The United States is a heavy user of pipelines for transportation and utilizes 1,233,000 miles of pipeline for natural gas alone.[ii] The 1.2 million miles of pipeline in the United States account for 70% of all oil products shipped within the country.[iii]
Natural gas coming from the extensive network of pipelines serves a variety of purposes including electricity, which comprises 36% of natural gas consumption; residential uses such as heat, which accounts for 16% of usage; and transportation, which utilizes 3% of natural gas consumption.[iv] However, even with the large natural gas demand, there is no perfectly safe, universally agreed upon way to transport the gas.
Although pipelines carry the majority of natural gas in the United States, there are a growing number of trains and trucks transporting oil.[v] Regardless of transportation method, spills of natural gas occur and leave potentially billions of dollars’ worth of damage, similar to the Enbridge pipeline rupture.[vi] Due to the catastrophic failures of all natural gas transportation methods, such as spillages and harmful chemicals escaping barrels, people are wary of new pipelines. Accordingly, there has been a recent, and large, controversy regarding the installation of the new pipeline, Atlantic Sunrise. Atlantic Sunrise runs through ten counties of Pennsylvania and will hopefully provide natural gas to southern states such as Alabama.[vii]
The near $3 billion pipeline is threatened by activists who are protesting every step of construction, but the DC Circuit Court has refused to block the pipeline by dissolving an administrative stay on construction of the pipeline.[viii] Petitioners argue that without a hold on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) certification, the construction of the pipeline would “render moot full and complete relief that [a] court could grant” by causing irreparable damage to the landscape and environment of properties effected by construction.[ix] Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co. and Williams Partners, the constructors of Atlantic Sunrise, argue that they satisfied all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act by providing “a quantitative estimate of the downstream greenhouse emission that will result from burning the natural gas that the pipeline will transport.”[x]
For the time being, Transcontinental and Williams will be able to continue construction on the pipeline as litigation continues to progress.
[i] CIA World Factbook: Pipelines, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2117.html (last visited November 22, 2017).
[iii] James Conca, Pick Your Poison for Crude – Pipeline, Rail, Truck or Boat, Forbes (Apr. 26, 2014, 10:35 AM) https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2014/04/26/pick-your-poison-for-crude-pipeline-rail-truck-or-boat/#37c7cb1617ac.
[iv] Natural Gas Explained: Use of Natural Gas, U.S. Energy Info. Admin., https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=natural_gas_use (last visited November 22, 2017).
[v] See Conca, supra note iii.
[vii] See generally The Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, NPR: StateImpact, https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/tag/atlantic-sunrise-pipeline/ (last visited November 22, 2017).
[viii] Michael Phillis, DC Circ. Refuses to Block $2.65B Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, Law360 (November 8, 2017), https://www.law360.com/environmental/articles/983457/dc-circ-refuses-to-block-2-65b-atlantic-sunrise-pipeline.