Nature & Natural Gas: The Ecology of Pipeline Development

Nature & Natural Gas: The Ecology of Pipeline Development

JULY 30, 2013

The exploration and production of natural gas in the United States is a growing industry. As a result of successful gas exploration and development, the cost of natural gas has declined in recent years. The lower cost of natural gas combined with its smaller carbon footprint has prompted an increase in demand. Higher demand drives the need for an expanded pipeline network to convey the natural gas from its sources and distribute it to customers. At the forefront of these pipeline projects are ecological and permitting needs.

Thoughtful design speeds permitting

Installing a new pipeline requires careful route selection studies, engineering design, environmental permitting, and ecological services like impact studies and construction monitoring. Minimizing or avoiding impacts to natural resources is often necessary in order to obtain needed permits to allow a project to be built. This was true for South Jersey Gas, who hired Woodard & Curran to provide full environmental permitting and engineering design services for construction of a 22-mile, 24-inch pipeline to supply natural gas to repower a coal-fired power plant.

“The complexity and short timeline of the project required staff with the education necessary to successfully navigate the ecological, route analysis, and permitting portion of the project,” said Steve Ewing, Woodard & Curran’s Principal Ecologist and Lead Permit Agent for the project. “The project crossed jurisdictional resources such as Waters of the United States, Pinelands wetlands and wetland transition areas, flood hazard areas and buffers, threatened and endangered species habitat, cultural resources, and Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers, to name a few. To meet South Jersey Gas’s short timeline, the project design avoided jurisdictional waters impacts by using trenchless technology and carefully minimized impacts to jurisdictional buffers.”

The Woodard & Curran team provided all resource investigations and delineations, route analyses, engineering services, and state and federal permitting services for the project. Working together with many stakeholders, the team developed a low-impact solution that met the needs of South Jersey Gas while satisfying all the regulatory agencies.

Minimizing impacts to wetlands, protected species

When environmental impacts are unavoidable, applying a range of protective strategies in the project corridor is essential. What strategies are appropriate requires a complete understanding of the complexities of the permitting process and the potential impacts.

Atlanta Gas Light (AGL) has been expanding its pipeline network and turned to Woodard & Curran for environmental services for over 80 miles of new pipeline. This has included stream and wetland field delineations, protected species studies, federal, state, and local permitting, and construction oversight.

Numerous sensitive environmental issues can arise on these projects, and it is important to work with the project team and the various agencies to craft a solution that is beneficial for all. Woodard & Curran worked on a project with AGL that included a gas transmission pipeline that crossed several streams that are habitat for federally protected fish species. We worked hand-in-hand with AGL and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to come to an agreement that allowed AGL to save time and money on the project while supporting conservation of the species and ultimately improving the health of the watershed.

As natural gas development continues so will the need for careful ecological studies and protection strategies. With no slow-down expected in the gas market and ever increasing and changing protective laws for natural resources, the complexity of pipeline projects will increase, putting even greater emphasis on thoughtful, thorough permitting, design, and construction.


Senior Scientist
Ecological Services

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