Corpus Christi LNG clears hurdle toward federal approval

Federal energy regulators have decided that a proposed liquefied natural gas project in Corpus Christi will not significantly harm the environment, clearing the way for full approval.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Wednesday issued a final environmental impact statement for the Corpus Christi LNG project proposed by Houston-based Cheniere Energy.

The agency found that while construction and operation of the import and export terminal could have some adverse effects, mostly temporary and short-term, they will be minimal. That’s primarily because the project is being developed in an existing industrial area and a proposed 23-mile pipeline to feed the plant will be installed in existing rights-of-way that mostly cross farmland.

The agency also said that Cheniere has committed to minimizing the effects on wetlands, water and soil. For example, to lessen the impact of a proposed marine terminal on the nearby wetlands and fish habitat, Cheniere plans to use a special dredge to reduce turbidity, or cloudiness in the water, which inhibits the growth of underwater plants on which fish and shellfish feed.

“Implementation of the mitigation propsed by Cheniere and our recommended mitigation would ensure that impacts in the project area would be avoided or minimized and would not be significant,” FERC said in its review.

No endangered species or cultural resources will be affected, FERC found.

The clearance comes two months after the Environmental Protection Agency challenged FERC, arguing that its fellow agency’s draft environmental review was insufficient, failing to show how the project would the air, water and wetlands along Corpus Christi Bay and how to limit those effects.

Related: Feds vs. feds: EPA questions energy agency’s environmental review

The environmental review brings Cheniere a step closer to gaining full FERC approval for the facility, which will be capable of producing about 13.5 million metric tons of liquefied gas per year. But it’s an important hurdle for the project to clear. The Energy Department in May said it will only consider approving LNG export permits after underlying projects have cleared FERC’s environmental reviews.

FERC has cleared construction for four LNG export facilities, including another Cheniere project now under construction in Sabine Pass.

Cheniere is waiting on a separate license from the Energy Department authorizing it to export natural gas from its Corpus Christi facility to countries that do not have free trade agreements with the United States.