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A gas terminal in Long Island Sound?

The floating natural gas transfer station would be permanently moored in the broadest part of the Sound

An energy consortium is eyeing the middle of Long Island Sound as the site for a controversial floating fuel terminal nearly the size of the Queen Mary 2 luxury liner.

The $700 million gas transfer station, which would receive and store natural gas, reportedly would be permanently moored in the broadest part of the Sound, in water more than 70 feet deep, about nine miles north of Long Island and about 11 miles south of Connecticut. The proposed structure would be 1,100 feet long — the QM2 is 1,132 feet — and about 100 feet tall.

The floating station would receive tanker shipments of liquefied natural gas, which is natural gas that has been cooled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit to make it a liquid and, therefore, easier and safer to transport. At the station, the liquid would be warmed to a gaseous state, then piped through a new 25-mile pipeline that would be connected to an existing Iroquois pipeline that runs under the Sound between Milford, Conn., and Northport, N.Y.

The project is proposed by Broadwater Energy, a joint effort by TransCanada Corp. of Calgary, Alberta, and Shell U.S. Gas and Power of Houston. The goal, according to Broadwater, is to provide cost-efficient and cleaner fuel for the New York and Connecticut areas.

“We want to guarantee a safe and dependable supply of clean gas to meet the area’s needs, and we anticipate a broad base of customers,” says project director John Hritcko Jr.

Broadwater officials say the site was selected after a two-year study and would have minimal impact on recreational boating and commercial shipping. Opponents point out that the mammoth structure would take up considerable space on the Sound. And since LNG facilities have been the target of renewed security concerns since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Coast Guard would establish and enforce a security zone that prohibits unauthorized marine traffic in the terminal area. (Broadwater has hired the Giuliani Group, headed by former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, to complete a yearlong security risk assessment.)

The plan was unveiled during a series of public meetings held in towns on Long Island and along the Connecticut shoreline in late November and early December. Soon after the announcement, several organizations voiced concerns about the project’s safety and potential environmental impacts.

“TransCanada Energy has provided little information about the potential environmental impact from this type of floating gas plant, but the potential for damage to the Sound and its ecology is enormous,” said Leah Lopez, staff attorney with environmental group Save the Sound, in a statement. “The plan calls for more than 25 miles of new undersea pipelines, a development that in and of itself will have a significant and negative impact on the critically important sea bottom along the Sound.”

Connecticut officials — who have little input since the terminal would be in New York waters, although close to the Connecticut line — also raised concerns. “Especially critical, close scrutiny should be given to any proposal that potentially endangers Long Island Sound,” said Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal in a statement. “A massive container filled with a flammable, dangerous substance certainly raises grave concerns, particularly when linked to a new pipeline.”

Long Island Sound in recent years has been the target of several energy projects, sparking concerns that the waterway could become even more industrialized. Other projects include a proposal by Islander East to construct a new natural gas pipeline, which has been approved but not built, and the 2002 installation of the Cross Sound cable, a 24-mile high-voltage cable from New Haven, Conn., to Brookhaven, N.Y. Proposals to build on-shore LNG facilities, such as the proposed Weaver’s Cove facility in Fall River, Mass., also have generated concerns.

Broadwater says its gas transfer station would be the first such offshore facility. However, there are proposals to build similar facilities in the Gulf of Mexico and off California. Pending federal and New York regulatory approval, Broadwater expects its facility to be operational in 2010. The floating facility would receive shipments every two to three days, according to Broadwater.

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