Missouri gas company has found a way to keep its illegal pipeline in service

Thousands of Missourians received an alarming email from their utility company last month: Unless federal regulators allow a new pipeline in the area to continue operating, up to 400,000 residents of St. Louis could be without heating this winter.

The message came from Spire Missouri Inc., a natural gas utility serving some 1.2 million customers in Missouri.

“The level of panic was something I hadn’t seen,” said Dawn Chapman, a St. Louis resident and co-founder of Just Moms STL, a group that educates people about Superfund waste sites in the region. region.

Missouri Representative Cori Bush has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, to investigate the nature of Speyer’s claims. “I am gravely concerned that Spire Inc. may actively turn the fears of members of our community into guns,” she wrote in a November 17 letter, “many of whom are low income, families with young children and the elderly – for their own personal gain and profit. “

Spire’s warning to its customers – and the resulting panic – is the latest in a long saga of the controversial 65-mile-long Spire STL pipeline.

In 2018, FERC granted Speyer permission to build a new pipeline capable of transporting 400,000 decatherms of natural gas per day. The route would connect the Rockies Express pipeline in southwestern Illinois to the St. Louis area. Construction is complete and the pipeline is commissioned a year later.

But in 2020, the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, or EDF, filed a lawsuit against FERC for authorizing the project. He argued that FERC granted the clearance without proof required by law that a new pipeline was necessary and beneficial to the region. There were already five pipelines serving the St. Louis area, some of which carried natural gas from Speyer.

The construction of the pipeline ultimately cost $ 287 million. Normally, pipelines should show market demand before construction. Evidence of market demand is usually demonstrated through multiple contracts or agreements with utilities interested in the use of the pipeline. But in the case of the STL project, their only contract was and still is with their own subsidiary, Spire Missouri.

“This is an unprecedented situation, as it is not a typical relationship for a gas utility – one hand shaking the other, with an affiliate that is building a pipeline that serves only that gas utility. gas, ”Murphy told Grist.

“If a pipeline is really needed to serve a market, there will be a broader interest in registering for capacity on the pipeline.”

The lawsuit also argued that FERC’s approval of the pipeline depended on the absence of negative consequences for landowners along its route. By law, Speyer was required to restore land after construction and minimize disruption to communities, which Murphy said “absolutely did not happen.” EDF represents several clients before the courts who have lost arable land as a result of the project.

The US Court of Appeal ruled in favor of EDF in June 2021 and ordered Speyer to close the pipeline. The company was granted a 90-day extension to continue operating, during which time it was supposed to come up with a backup plan.

Instead, Spire emailed its customers in early November about potential shutdowns. Several weeks later, on November 30, the company increased gas prices for all of its customers. Those in St. Louis have seen their bills climb by about $ 14 per month. Spire attributes the increase to below-market natural gas prices in 2021, not the fight against pipelines.

But conservationists and politicians say Spire is scared to gain support for its pipeline.

“They are scaring people into defending their now illegal pipeline,” said Michael Berg, political director of the Sierra Club of Missouri chapter.

Chapman said there was a lot of mistrust in the community now. “They [increased gas prices] in addition to a level of panic they had already created. ”

The court had ordered the pipeline to be closed before December 13. But on December 3, FERC decided to grant a temporary extension of Speyer’s operating license to get through the winter months.

Jason Merrill, communications director at Spire, told Grist that while the STL pipeline had been shut down in December, the company had made a contingency plan to transport its gas through other pipelines, albeit amounting to only one quarter of the gas transported by STL. everyday. “There was some capacity in the market, but it is not reaching the 350,000 decatherms per day that the Spire STL pipeline brings to the region,” he said.

Berg of the Sierra Club says Speyer could easily have gotten a contract with Enable MRT, another pipeline that serves St. Louis, for half the cost of the current one.

According to an email sent to utility customers by Speyer Missouri President Scott Carter, the company is now focused on obtaining a new permanent operating certificate for the pipeline.

“This is part of a large campaign by the gas industry to [build] as much infrastructure as possible, as quickly as possible, “said Berg,” before the large-scale transition out of gas really takes off. “

About Leni Loberns

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