Environmentalists Urge Feds to Dump Approval of Alaska Gas Pipeline

A newborn beluga whale calf sticks its head out of the water in upper Cook Inlet, Alaska, in this Aug. 25, 2017, photo provided by NOAA Fisheries.

(CN) — Environmentalists have asked the Trump administration to reconsider a recent decision to allow the construction of an 800-mile pipeline that will make it easier to export liquified natural gas to Asia. 

The Chickaloon Traditional Village Council and environmental organizations filed a formal request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday, asking the agency to rehear the application for the LNG Alaska project. If built, the project will send natural gas from the northern part of the state to the south, where it can be shipped to customers in Asia. 

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club said the commission failed to consider climate change and endangered species, including polar bears, Cook Inlet beluga whales and North Pacific right whales. 

“It makes no sense to fuel climate change to export American fuel to Asia,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This risky project would be a disaster for Alaska, our climate and its endangered wildlife.”

The natural gas fields in question are north of the Arctic Circle and figure to provide 20 million tons of condensed fuel to foreign markets annually. 

If completed, the pipeline would send 3.9 billion cubic-feet of gas per day to a treatment facility in Prudhoe Bay. As it is used, the gas could emit about 76 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equivalent to 20 coal-fired power plants. 

“Even those who support this project should be appalled at how dismissively FERC has treated its numerous significant impacts on Alaska and the climate, telling the public essentially not to look behind the curtain,” said Erin Whalen, an attorney at Earthjustice. “The agency needs to scrap its order and start over.”

In its approval, the commission noted a rigorous process that included extensive environmental analysis.

“The final EIS finds that, while some impacts would be permanent and significant, such as impacts on permafrost, most impacts would not be significant or would be reduced to less-than significant levels with the implementation of avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures recommended in the final EIS39 and adopted by this order,” the regulatory commission said in its authorization of the project. 

The regulator also disagreed with the Center for Biological Diversity’s characterization that the project would harm Alaskan taxpayers by exporting most of the disinterred natural gas. 

“We note that the project would have economic and local/regional public benefits, including increased employment opportunities and household income from both project construction and operation,” the authorization reads. 

But critics note a Trump-appointed commissioner criticized the project for its inordinate impact on climate. 

“The commission once again refuses to consider the consequences its actions have for climate change,” said James Glick, one of the five FERC commissioners. “Claiming that a project’s environmental impacts are acceptable while at the same time refusing to assess the significance of the project’s impact on the most important environmental issue of our time is not reasoned decision making.”

The center said the construction of the treatment facility near Cook Inlet means an increase in large tanker ships, which will inevitably have impacts on right whales and beluga whales. 

The commission did say that tanker traffic in Cook Inlet would increase by 75%. 

Alaska is particularly susceptible to climate change due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The Last Frontier is warming twice as fast as elsewhere, and the permafrost that fills broad swaths of the vast land tracts that comprise the state is already thawing.

The project is slated to cost $43 billion. 

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