INGAA Comments in Response to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Interim 4(d) Rule for Northern Long-Eared Bat

On July, 1, 2015, INGAA submitted supplemental comments in response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service)’s interim 4(d) rule (Interim Rule) for the northern long-eared bat (NLEB).  A number of INGAA members own and operate natural gas assets within the White-Nose Syndrome Buffer Zone (Buffer Zone) and will be directly impacted by this rule.
INGAA continues to urge the Service to expand its pipeline-related exceptions listed in the Interim Rule to include construction of interstate natural gas pipelines. INGAA previously submitted comments in this proceeding (March Comments) requesting that the Service consider including interstate natural gas pipeline construction projects in its list of 4(d) exceptions. The impacts of such a project on the NLEB would be temporary and minimal considering the infrastructure is buried ultimately and the area is re-vegetated after the project is complete. Further, in conducting these projects, INGAA members would comply with the conservation measures identified in 50 C.F.R. § 17.40(o)(2)(ii)(B)(1). 
Accordingly, INGAA is supplementing its March Comments by supplying the Service with data demonstrating the percentage of forest cover actually impacted by INGAA member pipeline construction projects in the last three years. INGAA’s data focuses on four companies whose pipeline assets are covered by the Buffer Zone. This data supports the finding that natural gas pipeline construction projects cause a fraction of the impact that forest management activities create. In fact, in all of the listed states included in INGAA’s table, the percentage of total forest cover impacted is negligible in comparison to the 2 percent figure used for the forestry management industry.
In addition, as discussed in INGAA’s March Comments, restrictions imposed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) minimize any potential impacts that a pipeline right of way project may have on NLEB habitat degradation. FERC requires pipeline rights of way to be re-vegetated immediately after construction. Operators are permitted to re-vegetate temporary construction rights of way consistent with nearby areas, including forests. Re-vegetated corridors may provide new foraging, commuting and roosting habitat for the NLEB, creating a benefit for the species. Also, per the FERC Upland Erosion Control and Sedimentation Plan, pipeline operators are not allowed to mow the permanent right of way more frequently than every three years. A corridor only 10 feet wide may be mowed each year to assist with access for required testing. These rules and restrictions significantly reduce any detrimental impacts to the NLEB’s habitat.
To view the data demonstrating the percentage of forest cover impacted by INGAA member pipeline construction projects, please visit page 3 in the attached PDF.