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Notice

El Paso Natural Gas Company; Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Planned Sasabe Lateral Project and Request for Comments on Environmental Issues

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The staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) will prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) that will discuss the environmental impacts of the Sasabe Lateral Project (Project) involving construction and operation of facilities by El Paso Natural Gas Company (El Paso) in Pima County, Arizona. The Commission will use this EIS in its decision-making process to determine whether the Project is in the public convenience and necessity.

This notice announces the opening of the scoping process the Commission will use to gather input from the public and interested agencies on the Project. Your input will help the Commission staff determine what issues they need to evaluate in the EIS.

You may submit comments in written form or verbally. Further details on how to submit written comments are in the Public Participation section of this notice. In addition, the Commission intends to host public scoping meetings in the Project area. The times and locations of scoping meetings will be announced in a future Notice of Scoping Meetings. Scoping will close 7 days after the last scoping meeting.

This notice is being sent to the Commission's current environmental mailing list for the Sasabe Lateral Project, and the forthcoming Notice of Scoping Meetings will also be sent out to this list. State and local government representatives should notify their constituents of this planned project and encourage them to comment on their areas of concern.

If you are a landowner receiving this notice, a pipeline company representative may contact you about the acquisition of an easement to construct, operate, and maintain the planned facilities. The company would seek to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement. However, if the Commission approves the Project, that approval conveys with it the right of eminent domain. Therefore, if easement negotiations fail to produce an agreement, the pipeline company could initiate condemnation proceedings where compensation would be determined in accordance with state law.

A fact sheet prepared by the FERC entitled “An Interstate Natural Gas Facility On My Land? What Do I Need To Know?” is available for viewing on the FERC Web site (www.ferc.gov). This fact sheet addresses a number of typically-asked questions, including the use of eminent domain and how to participate in the Commission's proceedings.

Summary of the Planned Project

The Project would consist of the following facilities in Pima County, Arizona:

  • Installation of about 60 miles of 36-inch-diameter natural gas pipeline;
  • Construction of a new meter station near the U.S.-Mexico border; and
  • Construction of other appurtenant facilities.

The Project would link El Paso's existing South Mainline System near Tucson to the U.S.-Mexico border near the town of Sasabe, Arizona. El Paso is currently considering two routes for the pipeline: the West Route and the East Route. The West Route would be located on private and state lands. The East Route would be located on private, state, and federal lands. The East Route would primarily follow an existing highway right-of-way and traverse the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. The general location of the Project facilities is shown in Appendix 1.[1]

According to El Paso, the planned Project would provide additional natural gas export capability of between 160 and 210 million cubic feet of natural gas per day to an interconnect with the Puerto Libertad Pipeline at the international border. The Mexico Comisión Federal de Electricidad has specified this point as their desired receipt point in order to supply gas for power generation.

Land Requirements for Construction

Construction of the planned facilities would disturb about 815 acres of land for the pipeline and aboveground facilities. Following construction, El Paso would maintain about 362 acres for permanent operation of the Project's facilities; the remaining acreage would be restored and revert to former uses. About 70 percent of the East Route parallels existing utility or road rights- of-way, while about 30 percent of the West Route parallels existing utility or road rights-of-way.

The EIS Process

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires the Commission to take into account the environmental impacts that could result from an action whenever it considers the issuance of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. NEPA also requires us [2] to discover and address concerns the public may have about proposals. This process is referred to as “scoping.” The main goal of the scoping process is to focus the analysis in the EIS on the important environmental issues. By this notice, the Commission requests public comments on the scope of the issues to address in the EIS. We will consider all filed comments during the preparation of the EIS.

In the EIS we will discuss impacts that could occur as a result of the construction and operation of the planned Project under these general headings:

  • Geology and soils;
  • Water resources, fisheries, and wetlands;
  • Vegetation, wildlife, and endangered and threatened species;
  • Land use and cumulative impacts;
  • Socioeconomics;
  • Cultural resources;
  • Air quality and noise; and
  • Public safety.

We will also evaluate possible alternatives to the planned Project or portions of the Project, and make recommendations on how to lessen or avoid impacts on the various resource areas.

Although no formal application has been filed, we have already initiated our NEPA review under the Commission's pre-filing process. The purpose of the pre-filing process is to encourage early involvement of interested stakeholders and to identify and resolve issues before the FERC receives an application. As part of our pre-filing review, we have begun to contact some federal and state agencies to discuss their involvement in the scoping process and the preparation of the EIS.

The EIS will present our independent analysis of the issues. We will publish and distribute the draft EIS for public comment. After the comment period, we will consider all timely comments and revise the document, as necessary, before issuing a final EIS. To ensure we have the opportunity to consider and address your comments, please carefully follow the instructions in the Public Participation section beginning on page 5.

With this notice, we are asking agencies with jurisdiction by law and/or special expertise with respect to the environmental issues related to this Project to formally cooperate with us in the preparation of the EIS.[3] Agencies that would like to request cooperating agency status should follow the instructions for filing comments provided under the Public Participation section of this notice. Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Ecological Services Office and the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department have expressed their intention to participate as a cooperating agency in the preparation of the EIS to satisfy their NEPA responsibilities related to this Project.

Consultations Under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act

In accordance with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation's implementing regulations for section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, we are using this notice to initiate consultation with the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), and to solicit their views and those of other government agencies, interested Indian tribes, and the public on the Project's potential effects on historic properties.[4] We will define the Project-specific Area of Potential Effects in consultation with the SHPO as the Project develops. On natural gas facility projects, the Area of Potential Effects at a minimum encompasses all areas subject to ground disturbance (examples include construction right-of-way, contractor/pipe storage yards, meter stations, and access roads). Our EIS for this Project will document our findings on the impacts on historic properties and summarize the status of consultations under section 106.

Currently Identified Environmental Issues

We have already identified several issues that we think deserve attention based on a preliminary review of the planned facilities and the environmental information provided by El Paso. This preliminary list of issues may change based on your comments and our analysis:

  • Impacts on riparian areas at approximately 220 dry wash crossings;
  • Land use impacts, such as disruption of on-going conservation efforts to restore native grassland;
  • Visual impacts in consideration of Native American sacred sites;
  • The creation of a new corridor that could exacerbate the current illegal immigration and drug trafficking activities;
  • Socioeconomic issues, such as job creation and future development;
  • Unauthorized all terrain vehicle use of the right-of-way after construction;
  • Impacts on threatened and endangered species (including the masked bobwhite quail, Pima pineapple cactus, and Chiricahua leopard frog) and other sensitive species (including the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl); and
  • Alternatives, including routing that may impact the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.

Public Participation

You can make a difference by providing us with your specific comments or concerns about the Project. Your comments should focus on the potential environmental effects, reasonable alternatives, and measures to avoid or lessen environmental impacts. The more specific your comments, the more useful they will be. To ensure that your comments are timely and properly recorded, please send your comments so that the Commission receives them in Washington, DC on or before the end of the scoping period, which will close 7 days after the last scoping meeting, to be announced in a future Notice of Scoping Meetings. This is not your only public input opportunity; please refer to the Environmental Review Process flow chart in Appendix 2.

For your convenience, there are three methods you can use to submit your comments to the Commission. In all instances, please reference the Project docket number (PF12-11-000) with your submission. The Commission encourages electronic filing of comments and has expert staff available to assist you at (202) 502-8258 or efiling@ferc.gov.

(1) You can file your comments electronically using the eComment feature located on the Commission's Web site (www.ferc.gov) under the link to Documents and Filings. This is an easy method for interested persons to submit brief, text-only comments on a project;

(2) You can file your comments electronically using the eFiling feature located on the Commission's Web site (www.ferc.gov) under the link to Documents and Filings. With eFiling, you can provide comments in a variety of formats by attaching them as a file with your submission. New eFiling users must first create an account by clicking on “eRegister.” You must select the type of filing you are making. If you are filing a comment on a particular project, please select “Comment on a Filing”; or

(3) You can file a paper copy of your comments by mailing them to the following address: Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street NE., Room 1A, Washington, DC 20426.

Environmental Mailing List

The environmental mailing list includes federal, state, and local government representatives and agencies; elected officials; environmental and public interest groups; Native American Tribes; other interested parties; and local libraries and newspapers. This list also includes all affected landowners (as defined in the Commission's regulations) who are potential right-of-way grantors, whose property may be used temporarily for project purposes, or who own homes within certain distances of aboveground facilities, and anyone who submits comments on the Project. We will update the environmental mailing list as the analysis proceeds to ensure that we send the information related to this environmental review to all individuals, organizations, and government entities interested in and/or potentially affected by the planned Project.

Copies of the completed draft EIS will be sent to the environmental mailing list for public review and comment. If you would prefer to receive a paper copy of the document instead of the CD version or would like to remove your name from the mailing list, please return the attached Information Request (Appendix 3).

Becoming an Intervenor

Once El Paso files its application with the Commission, you may want to become an “intervenor,” which is an official party to the Commission's proceeding. Intervenors play a more formal role in the process and are able to file briefs, appear at hearings, and be heard by the courts if they choose to appeal the Commission's final ruling. An intervenor formally participates in the proceeding by filing a request to intervene. Instructions for becoming an intervenor are in the User's Guide under the “e-filing” link on the Commission's Web site. Please note that the Commission will not accept requests for intervenor status at this time. You must wait until the Commission receives a formal application for the Project.

Additional Information

Additional information about the Project is available from the Commission's Office of External Affairs, at (866) 208-FERC, or on the FERC Web site (www.ferc.gov) using the eLibrary link. Click on the eLibrary link, click on “General Search” and enter the docket number, excluding the last three digits in the Docket Number field (i.e., PF12-11). Be sure you have selected an appropriate date range. For assistance, please contact FERC Online Support at FercOnlineSupport@ferc.gov or toll free at (866) 208-3676, or for TTY, contact (202) 502-8659. The eLibrary link also provides access to the texts of formal documents issued by the Commission, such as orders, notices, and rulemakings.

In addition, the Commission offers a free service called eSubscription which allows you to keep track of all formal issuances and submittals in specific dockets. This can reduce the amount of time you spend researching proceedings by automatically providing you with notification of these filings, document summaries, and direct links to the documents. Go to www.ferc.gov/esubscribenow.htm.

Finally, public meetings or site visits will be posted on the Commission's calendar located at www.ferc.gov/EventCalendar/EventsList.aspx along with other related information.

Dated: August 1, 2012.

Kimberly D. Bose,

Secretary.

Footnotes

1.  The appendices referenced in this notice will not appear in the Federal Register. Copies of the appendices were sent to all those receiving this notice in the mail and are available at www.ferc.gov using the link called “eLibrary” or from the Commission's Public Reference Room, 888 First Street NE., Washington, DC 20426, or call (202) 502-8371. For instructions on connecting to eLibrary, refer to the last page of this notice.

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2.  “We,” “us,” and “our” refer to the environmental staff of the Commission's Office of Energy Projects.

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3.  The Council on Environmental Quality regulations addressing cooperating agency responsibilities are at Title 40, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 1501.6.

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4.  The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation regulations are at Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 800. Those regulations define historic properties as any prehistoric or historic district, site, building, structure, or object included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register for Historic Places.

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BILLING CODE 6717-01-P

[FR Doc. 2012-19265 Filed 8-6-12; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 6717-01-P