Spire’s STL Pipeline seeks to keep pumping as federal approval is reassessed

(The Center Square) – The Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) agreed Thursday to hear a petition filed by Spire STL Pipeline to allow it to continue transporting natural gas as a court order requires a federal commission to reassess its approval of the 65-mile pipeline.

Spire’s STL Pipeline, an affiliate of Spire Missouri, the state’s largest natural gas utility servicing 650,000 homes and businesses, in an eight-page petition to the PSC said shutting down the pipeline while litigation is being deliberated poses “potentially fatal consequences” to Missourians who rely on natural gas.

“Loss of the STL pipeline will have a detrimental impact on the health and safety, the prosperity and the property of the St. Louis community, particularly the communities that are most vulnerable,” Spire general counsel Sean Jamieson told the PSC Thursday.

Without the STL pipeline, he said, up to 175,000 Spire customers would be at risk of losing service when temperatures dip below 9 degrees. If the pipeline was not operating during February’s deep freeze, he said, as many as 133,000 customers would have lost power and 400,000 affected.

“So,” Jamieson said, “the gravity of the circumstances is severe.”

“Due in large part to the STL Pipeline, St. Louis avoided those impacts,” Spire STL Pipeline says in its filing. “The (Federal Energy Regulatory) Commission must assure that customers who depend on this important gas infrastructure are not suddenly left without it – particularly as another winter season approaches.”

On June 22, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia ruled STL Pipeline’s 2018 approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) may have violated the Natural Gas Act and ordered FERC to review Spire’s permit again.

When Spire announced its intent to build the pipeline in 2016, under the Natural Gas Act, it was required to invite natural gas “shippers” to enter contracts for the gas the pipeline would transport.

None committed, prompting New York-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to file a lawsuit in D.C. federal court.

EDF had opposed the proposal before filing its suit claiming Spire violated federal law through “self-dealing” by signing a “precedent agreement” with one of its own affiliates for 87.5% of the pipeline’s capacity.

The three-judge panel agreed in its June ruling with EDF, saying the nonprofit had “identified plausible evidence of self-dealing.”

Jamieson said Spire has until Aug. 6 to request a rehearing of the court ruling. If denied, it is uncertain what the timeline would be for shutting down the pipeline.

EDF Senior Director and lead counsel for energy markets and utility regulation Natalie Karas said in a statement Thursday that the DC Circuit Court ruled FERC “failed to consider evidence of self-dealing and failed to demonstrate the pipeline was necessary.

“But Spire STL chose to proceed anyway,” she continued and is now confronted with its own hubris.

“This is a problem of Spire STL’s own making,” Karas said. “No one has suggested that service to St. Louis customers should be compromised. At the same time, customers must be protected from costs and risks associated with unnecessary infrastructure.”

STL Pipeline’s request for a rehearing before the court, and well as its petition before the PSC, “should be carefully scrutinized based on facts, not fear,” she said.

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