ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. —
You may have received an e-mail from the gas company Spire warning your gas might have to be shut off this winter if the company is forced to close a major pipeline.
The e-mail is not a fake, but some say it still seems like an unnecessary alarm.
The Spire STL Pipeline runs about 65 miles from Scott County, Illinois, to St. Louis.
The company says during peak usage about 400,000 St. Louis area homes and businesses rely on it for natural gas.
Right now, the Spire STL Pipeline is only operating on a temporary permit that expires on Dec. 13. That is why the company said it had to send out an email telling customers they could lose service if that permit isn't extended.
But Tuesday night the St. Louis County Council had some questions about that when a representative from the company came before the council.
“This feels a little bit like a manufactured catastrophe,” Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-District 5, told David Yonce who is a project manager for Spire.
“Is this about putting pressure on FERC?” asked Councilman Tim Fitch, R-District 3.
FERC stands for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That's the government agency that signs off on pipelines like this one.
FERC, Spire and the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) are all tied up in court over whether this pipeline should have ever been approved in the first place.
The environmental group questions whether the pipeline was really necessary or if customers are just paying more so Spire can make more money and takes issue with how EDF said the pipeline cuts through farmland.
But even the environmental group said the pipeline should be allowed to operate through the winter so that no one will lose service.
Natalie Karas with EDF said the organization has made that case to FERC.
“EDF has stated unequivocally that the reliability of service to St. Louis energy consumers should not be compromised and the fear-based tactics have to stop,” said Karas. “It's extremely damaging, and Spire is causing a lot of harm to its own customers.”
For it’s part, Spire said alarm was not its intent.
“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.
“This is not a message you tell people on December 13th,” he said.
Asked about allegations that the company is trying to leverage public support with the email about the possible loss of service Merrill said, “This is to be transparent with our customers and make sure they understand this is the situation.”
Merrill said Spire “feel(s) very strongly” that FERC will grant a certificate to continue operating the pipeline through the winter.
“But there are no guarantees,” said Merrill until a ruling is made which could come any day according to both Spire and EDF.
As for the importance of the pipeline compared to previous pipelines the company used, Spire said when a winter storm earlier this year knocked out gas and heat to much of Texas the STL Pipeline prevented the same thing from happening to more than 100,000 homes in the St. Louis area.
The St. Louis County Council agreed Tuesday night to look into the matter more with more witnesses than just the Spire representative.