Section 368 Corridor Study
An overview of the Corridor Study, including results based on the responses to questionnaires and discussions with BLM offices and National Forests; findings to address challenges and opportunities to encourage more efficient and effective use of Section 368 corridors; and considerations to inform regional periodic reviews.
The Corridor Study evaluates whether the Section 368 corridors are achieving their purpose to promote environmentally responsible corridor-siting decisions and reduce the proliferation of dispersed ROWs crossing Federal lands. The Corridor Study establishes baseline data and identifies considerations and areas which should be explored in more detail during future Regional Reviews to be conducted by the BLM and USFS. The Corridor Study encompasses the period from January 2009 to October 2014.
The BLM, USFS, and DOE published a Request for Information (RFI) in March 2014 to solicit information from interested stakeholders and data calls were sent to all BLM State Offices and USFS Regional Offices regarding use of Section 368 corridors, including requests for geographic information system (GIS) or other relevant digital spatial data.
Observations were based on the responses to questionnaires and discussions with BLM offices and National Forests and were used to compile results regarding Section 368 corridors including their efficient and effective use (ROW siting within corridors, the types and numbers of projects within the corridors, and where Section 368 corridors are being over- or under-utilized); corridor revision; the use of the IOPs, and the use of GIS data.
Varying degrees of knowledge regarding Section 368 corridors among BLM offices and National Forests were identified as the primary drivers impeding the effectiveness and usefulness of Section 368 corridors.
BLM offices and National Forests have indicated that applicants have used or proposed to use Section 368 corridors for the following reasons:
- Avoidance of potential resource issues,
- Expedited permitting process,
- Favorable topography for siting and co-locating facilities and infrastructure,
- Ease of industry project planning,
- Reduced costs,
- Most direct path to the intended destination,
- Minimization of disturbance to currently undisturbed land,
- Establishment of areas where utilities can cross Federal lands,
- Allowance for co-location of facilities and infrastructure, and
- Compliance with FLPMA.
Listed below are examples of reasons reported by respondents for non-use of Section 368 corridors:
- Routing challenges (i.e., routing to avoid certain lands or resources, gaps in Section 368 corridor routes across private or other non-Federal lands, corridors that end without a connection or hub, terrain and topography issues, private easements required for non-federal land, physical bottlenecks, conflict between BLM and State and local landowners, and lack of coordination among Federal agencies).
- Corridor spacing (need for additional space between new projects and existing utilities to keep their power rating or to meet safety requirements, congestion issues preventing a new ROW, incompatibility of pipelines with transmission line projects, and "cherry-picking" of routes that allows utilities to meander across a corridor and that prevents co-location of other lines).
- Corridor location (interest in transmission routes by utilities does not align with the Section 368 corridor locations and proximity to existing facilities, such as tie-ins).
The Corridor Study compiled data on how Section 368 Corridors are currently being used, including:
- Interstate transmission projects that propose to use 368 corridors,
- Corridors with no activity, and
- Section 368 corridors currently in use or that have been proposed for use since designation.
The Corridor Study identifies some of the BLM offices that have made, or are in the process of making, changes to Section 368 corridors. No Section 368 corridors have been revised on National Forest System lands. Changes to Section 368 corridors can include revision of corridor width, deletions, and additions of corridors.
Interagency Operating Procedures
IOPs are mandatory planning and implementation procedures that apply to the development of ROW applications and improve the authorization and administration of ROWs in Section 368 corridors and address the entire ROW negotiation process as well as project planning, design, construction, operation, and decommissioning. There was a great deal of variation in how BLM office and National Forests understand and implement IOPs.
There is considerable variability in the available data and its adequacy for characterizing the type, level, and status of transmission activities involving the corridors.
Findings and Considerations
The following findings and considerations were identified to address challenges and opportunities to encourage more efficient and effective use of Section 368 corridors:
- Each region should explore opportunities to conduct co-location exercises (initiated at the pre-application process) to reduce bottlenecks and better ensure that multiple projects could be located in the same corridor.
- Each region should seek opportunities to site ROW projects parallel to the centerline where feasible. Targeted on-the-ground inspections could be conducted during regional reviews to identify siting inefficiencies and siting opportunities.
- Land use plan reviews and/or targeted on-the-ground inspections could identify existing or anticipated siting conflicts related to adjacent uses which may not be compatible with siting major linear infrastructure (e.g., oil and gas well pads, meteorological towers, substations, compressor stations, etc.). In addition, agencies regional offices should identify appropriate siting distances between linear infrastructure as well as buffer distances from non-linear structures and the corridors.
- The BLM and USFS should consider the effect that minimum spacing (consistent with accepted industry standards) would have on corridors between ROW projects. For example, the 2012 WECC new Adjacent Transmission Circuits definition that reduced the separation distance between centerlines from 1,500 to 250 ft. Regional agencies offices should explore opportunities to adopt spacing standards and/or seek to incentive more efficient use of the corridors.
- Where feasible, corridors should be modified to allow for more uniform width to avoid 'pinch points.'
- Project proponents should engage with industry and other technical experts to explore challenges and opportunities related to implementing project design alternatives such as the expanded use of DC current where feasible, undergrounding portions of high-voltage cables where feasible, and use of tower types with reduced footprints and/or visually less intrusive as well as modified or emerging materials.
- The BLM and USFS should consider mapping Section 368 corridors and authorized rights-of-way within the corridors through established standards for GIS data, data collection, analysis, and retention/tracking, coupled with a web-based mapping tool, to display corridor locations, ROW authorizations, and environmental data for the 11 western states.
- A web-based mapping tool focused on Section 368 corridors could be developed for a variety of protected areas and can be combined with other spatial information to provide convenient access to all stakeholders of relevant and current data.
- During regional reviews, the agencies could focus on identifying over-utilized corridors. On-the-ground field inspections and review of official government land records could also be conducted as part of future regional reviews.
- The BLM and USFS should explore opportunities to improve corridor connectivity across administrative jurisdictions. For instance, the BLM and USFS could collaborate with Reclamation to identify and designate corridors across Reclamation-administered land to connect with existing designated segments. This can also be applicable to other Federal and State agencies where gaps in corridors prevent corridor use.
- For non-Section 368 corridors, there may be less consistency in siting and evaluation of proposed energy transport projects crossing Federal lands since the IOPs are not currently required for siting projects in non-Section 368 corridors. The agencies could potentially explore this further during regional corridor reviews.
- Agencies should update and expand education, training, and guidance on Section 368 corridors, either on an intra-agency basis or inter-agency basis.
- The study found that industry has generally not pursued siting projects within corridors that cross National Forest System lands. This should be explored further during regional corridor reviews to better determine the challenges and opportunities to expand and improve siting projects on National Forests.
- Agency regional reviews should include new and relevant information from 2015 and beyond to continue to seek further improvement of the corridors, to protect public lands and better serve the nation's energy needs. The timeframe considered for this study was 2009 to 2014. Energy development and associated infrastructure are dynamic environments. Agency actions and public opinions regarding land uses and siting opportunities and constraints on federal lands constantly evolve.