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Boaters speak out against LNG plans

Terminals to accommodate the liquid natural gas supertankers are proposed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts

Boaters who frequent the busy waters of Newport Harbor in Rhode Island have, in recent months, voiced concerns about the proposed locations for two liquefied natural gas terminals — one in Providence and one in Fall River, Mass. If the proposals are approved, supertankers carrying the flammable liquefied gas will need to travel through Newport Harbor, Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound, prohibiting boat traffic as they go.

“Newport Harbor will literally have to be shut down,” says Patrick Lynch, Rhode Island’s Attorney General and a staunch opponent of the LNG proposals. “When tankers come through, we won’t have access to our waters or nearby bridges. Having access to the water and enjoying it is one of our biggest industries, and it’s in jeopardy.”

According to Chris Boyle, president of Sail Newport, an organization that promotes sailing programs and instruction, Lynch isn’t the only one who’s upset.

“Newport Harbor is a major component of our economy and of our waterways,” Boyle says. “With the security zone that needs to be maintained around these tankers, I’ve spoken with a number of boaters here who are very worried.”

Sail Newport hosted a meeting in May for residents of the Narragansett Bay concerned about the LNG proposals. Lynch was the main speaker.

According to Lynch, tankers blocking traffic will have an “enormous” impact on recreational boaters. “Who’s going to warn boaters when the tankers will be coming, when they can and cannot use their boats?”

he asks. “No one, that’s who. Boaters won’t be informed of tanker schedules because it poses a security risk. They won’t have a clue when the tankers are coming and won’t be able to enjoy the water.”

The proposal for an LNG terminal in Providence is made by Keyspan LNG LLC. The plan calls for a $50 million upgrade of the LNG storage tank currently located at Field’s Point. The changes will reconfigure the facility so it can receive LNG by water via tanker deliveries.

In Fall River, Weaver’s Cove Energy LLC, in partnership with Hess Amerada, has proposed to construct an LNG terminal and storage tank on the Taunton River.

To get to these proposed terminals, supertankers, carrying up to 33 million gallons of liquefied natural gas, would navigate 29 miles up Narragansett Bay to Providence or 26 miles to Fall River, at the north end of Mount Hope Bay. For safety and security purposes, the Coast Guard is required to enforce an “exclusion zone” around the tankers, extending two miles off the bow, one mile off the stern and 500 yards off either side. The security zones will have to be maintained as the tankers travel to and from the terminals, and for hours while they are unloaded.

The proposals are being reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency that regulates the interstate transport of natural gas, oil and electricity, and regulates natural gas and hydropower projects.

LNG is natural gas that’s been cooled to a liquid state and stored at -260 degrees F. As a liquid, it takes up 1/600th the volume it would in its gaseous state, making it easier to transport.

Although Lynch admits natural gas is a vital part of life in New England, he says the negative aspects of siting the terminals where they are proposed greatly outweigh the positives.

“I believe LNG is a wonderful product but the question now is what effect [the tankers] will have on our lives,” he says. “Putting aside the inherent safety risks, these terminals and the tankers will greatly disrupt life on the harbor and on other waters. There are numerous projects being planned for the construction of condos and marinas on our waterfronts. In Providence, there is

$5 billion in projects like this. With dangerous tankers coming in every two to three days, who’s going to want to move here? Many won’t.”

According to FERC’s Web site, about 96 percent of the world’s natural gas reserves are outside of North America. The United States alone consumes about 25 percent of the world’s annual natural gas production.

Increasing the number of LNG terminals in New England is necessary, says Bryan Lee, a FERC spokesperson. “It’s a matter of supply and demand,” he says. “New England is at the end of the North American natural gas distribution system. The region is critically dependent on LNG in the winter and its supply is limited.

“With rising costs and domestic production leveling off or declining,” Lee adds, “the commission clearly understands the economic imperative for New England, for the nation, to increase its natural gas options.”

Currently New England is home to one LNG terminal, located in Boston Harbor. That facility, the nation’s longest-operating LNG terminal, annually receives 20 percent of New England’s natural gas supply.

The LNG terminals for Providence and Fall River aren’t the only proposals along the eastern seaboard. Others include an anchored barge near the center of Long Island Sound; an offshore facility in Gloucester, Mass.; and a terminal in Logan Township, N.J. Other potential sites for LNG terminals (ones that have been discussed, but not yet proposed) include Somerset, Mass., and Pleasant Point, Maine.

Lee says FERC will carefully review the proposals, and could file its decisions as early as August.

“The commission is obligated under the law to protect the public’s interest,” Lee says. “The commission will consider all factors — economic, environmental, concerns of boaters, everything — before making its decisions.”

If either the Providence or Fall River (or both) proposals are approved, Lynch vows to take the battle to federal court.

“I will continue to publicly challenge these proposals,” Lynch says. “I may not have the one stab wound to end this project but I can still attack it with a thousand paper cuts. That’s what I’ll do.”