ST. LOUIS — After months of issuing warnings of possible service disruptions, Spire Energy is being ordered to send out a different kind of message, one that makes people feel better about the stability of their natural gas supply this winter.
The Missouri Public Service Commission is directing the energy company to provide updated communication with customers to “allay public fears and concerns.” This is after an earlier message to customers warning of possible gas outages if a temporary use permit for the Spire STL Pipeline is not approved past its current expiration date of December 13.
“Our intention was never to create any kind of alarm, it's to create awareness,” said Spire Missouri President Scott Carter. “So it's really to make sure people understood we had a plan that contingency to make sure that we were to continue to serve the customers to the extent possible.”
“If people read more into it, that's unfortunate,” he added.
The Environmental Defense Fund, or EDF, successfully sued to shut down the STL Pipeline when courts ruled the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's approval process was not thorough enough. Regulators then issued the temporary use permit through mid December.
“There is a real risk for gas outages without this pipeline,” Spire attorney Sean Jamieson told 5 On Your Side in October.
“We don't want to alarm people, but we had to be transparent to say that this [loss of service] was a possibility given that December 13th was only a few weeks away,” said Spire spokesman Jason Merrill earlier this month.
While the company maintains its messaging was meant for transparency, critics in St. Louis and St. Louis County government, as well as environmental groups, accuse the company of “fearmongering” to mount a public pressure campaign in support of the pipeline.
“The PR campaign they have been pursuing is reckless and irresponsible,” said Michael Berg, political director of The Sierra Club’s local chapter. “There will be power through the pipeline in for the winter. And this was never in doubt. And it's amazingly irresponsible for Spire to knowingly make people think that they might lose service.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, said last week they intend to act on the pipeline's use permit before it expires. Despite initial resistance, the EDF says now it supports an extension, too. Berg said environmental groups have been unfairly cast as opponents of consumers and people just trying to stay warm this winter.
“We need to transition away from fossil fuels because fossil fuels are the number one driver of climate change,” said Berg. “We think the pipeline should have never been built. However, we are completely against people's service being shut out as the winter comes along, and nobody supports that happening.”
Scott believes it’s a mischaracterization to call their press conferences, emails, and media campaigns “fear-mongering,” but says he’s happy to work with regulators to ensure customers feel secure in their natural gas supply this winter.
“We believe communicated appropriately the right message. Again, different people hear it differently. We don't want it to be an alarmist message. We want it to be an informational message, but we have a plan,” he said. “We also have greater certainty now that that pipeline will operate. And so we feel fairly confident that we're in a good place to serve this winter.”
More Spire pipeline coverage:
- Federal regulators say vote will be taken on Spire pipeline permit before it expires Dec. 13
- Future of Spire's natural gas pipeline to be discussed Nov. 18
- Are Spire customers really in danger of losing service?
- Anheuser-Busch, other St. Louis businesses warn of dire consequences if gas pipeline shuttered
- Spire warns of potential natural gas shortage after pipeline deemed unlawful
- High court rejects gas company's pipeline stay request