The Spire STL gas pipeline was first proposed by Spire Energy on July 1st, 2016. On January 26, 2017, Spire STL Pipeline Company, LLC (Spire Energy) filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for pipeline construction. On April 21, 2017, Spire filed an amended application with an alternative route, in lieu of the purchase and modification of Laclede’s Line 880 in St. Louis County, Missouri. The pipeline connects the existing Rockies Express Pipeline in Scott County, Illinois to St. Louis County, Missouri. The pipeline extends a total of 65 miles underground.
The first 59 miles of it, beginning in Scott County and extending into St. Louis County consists of newly built steel pipes. The second portion of the pipeline is 6 miles of acquired and modified steel pipes. The pipeline is fully owned and operated by Spire STL Pipeline LLC, an offshoot of Spire Energy. Spire Energy is the fifth-largest publicly traded natural gas company in the United States and operates in Alabama, Mississippi, and Missouri.
In November, 2017, The Great Rivers Environmental Law Center filed a motion to intervene on the FERC’s review, responding primarily to St. Louis County resident Juli Viel’s staunch demands for a more comprehensive environmental assessment of the potential impacts . As a nearby resident, Ms. Viel is concerned also that the pipeline would be installed through Spanish Lake neighborhood, which is predominantly African American . “[The pipeline] goes underneath the Missouri River, it goes underneath the Mississippi River…[w]hat goes through these pipelines is not benign. It’s polluting” says Viel . Great Rivers urges action to protect also threatened and endangered species including the Indiana bat and the decurrent false aster while emphasizing the need to consider alternatives to the expansion of transmission lines for fracked natural gas, which is causing climate change.
The Spire STL pipeline was approved in August of 2018 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on a 3-2 vote, after about two years of deliberation. Two Democrat commissioners both voted against the pipeline. In a dissent published in 2019 by Richard Glick, one of the Democrat commissioners who voted against, he questions the necessity of the pipeline. He argues that there is no evidence that an increased supply of natural gas is needed. Additionally, the Commission concluded, prior to voting, that the natural gas would not be any cheaper if it were transported through this new pipeline. Glick, along with the Environmental Defense Fund who is currently suing FERC over the approval of the pipeline , are not convinced that the additional pipeline is necessary. Both believe that there was not a sufficient investigation into Spire’s claims of the need for the pipeline. Rather, Spire and the FERC relied on Spire’s own internal reports. One likely reason for developing the pipeline is that Spire wanted to employ its own subsidiary.
The largely agricultural/farmers who owned the land that Spire claimed through eminent domain to build are particularly unhappy. June 2019, just after the installation of the pipeline, several farmers have issued complaints about runoff, losses of topsoil, and contamination to the IL EPA , citing an 80-page report showing images of their damaged fields. On January 20, 2020, the Environmental Defense Fund filed a lawsuit to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit challenging the FERC’s approval of the STL pipeline . Farmers make up the majority of actors involved in the lawsuit and owned 85.3% of the land utilized for Spire’s pipeline extension project. Although within the Spire environmental impact assessment, they were required under the EIA to take precautions to protect agriculture. Due to sloppy construction, topsoil was mixed with clay mud making it useless to farmers, and fields have been flooded . Spire had gained 92.8% access by landowners through compensation methods and eminent domain, the latter of which refers to the power of the government to convert private land to public use. About 50 farmers refused to hand over part of their property to be used for the Spire pipeline project. So rather than waiting, Spire used eminent domain, or a “quick take” legal process to gain access to private property before they had to pay to use the land, which undercuts farmers and takes the power out of their hands .
There were some bright lights in the pipeline dispute process. In 2016, when Spire came to Principia College (Elsah County) to ask whether they could put a natural pipeline through a mile of the college’s property for $37,000 in compensation, the College refused. The proposed area for the pipeline would be Grassy Hollow, a valley along the Great River Road a mile west of Elsah, Illinois. Grassy Hollow is an idyllic valley below an iconic bluff that overlooks the Mississippi with burial mounds, possibly from the Middle Woodland period (1000 B.C. to 900 A.D.), on its peak. There are dozens of sizable Middle Woodland burial mounds along the bluffs between Grafton and Alton and several Early Archaic (8000 B.C. to 1000 B.C.) sites, but this section of the Mississippi has rarely been explored archaeologically with only a few sites identified in Grafton. Furthermore, the Biology and Natural Resources (BNR) department at Principia had been collecting data on two Timber rattlesnake dens located in the proposed pipeline site; the rattlesnakes are an endangered species in Illinois. Overall, the land is considered to be a superior educational resource to the College’s students, and administrators and BNR faculty were not willing to see it destroyed through the construction of the pipeline. However, through negotiations between Spire and Principia College, the two parties settled on a $5 million (USD) compensation payout to Principia College as well as an alteration of the pipeline site to protect habitat and heritage. The payment supports invasive species mitigation on campus in potential Timber rattlesnake habitat.
A lawsuit has been filed by Scott, Greene and Jersey Counties - concerned about bridge loads for Spire’s trucks engaged in pipeline construction and have asked Spire to obtain a roads permit [5, 6] between Spire and county officials, citing the permit request as ‘unreasonable interference.’ The lawsuit was settled out of court December 2019 after Spire claimed the agreement was more stringent than the one given to another company, Ameren Illinois in a prior project .