Fishermen feel undervalued in LNG deal - Soundings Online

Fishermen feel undervalued in LNG deal

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A promised $46 million mitigation package is misdirected, says a group organizing a class-action lawsuit

A promised $46 million mitigation package is misdirected, says a group organizing a class-action lawsuit

Fishermen and city officials in the north shore Massachusetts town of Gloucester are upset about their former governor’s approval of two offshore liquefied natural gas projects, despite a promised $46 million mitigation package that would send millions of dollars to the local fishing industry and other organizations.

“I am totally outraged about the placement of these terminals in our fishing grounds, and about the mitigation packages,” says Michael Sosnowski, a Salem, Mass., city councilman. Sosnowski, who has been a lobsterman for more than three decades, has organized a group of nearly 20 fishermen and lobstermen to file a class-action lawsuit against the LNG projects.

“If we’re put out of business, what are we going to get? A token stipend? The mitigation packages have millions of dollars going to organizations that are in no way involved with this. It makes no sense.”

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in late December approved proposals from Northeast Gateway and Neptune LNG, which call for LNG terminals to be cited 13 and 7 miles south-southeast of Gloucester, respectively. Under the Deep Water Port Act, the projects needed the governor’s approval before moving forward. The U.S. Maritime Administration — the lead agency responsible for approving energy-related proposals in federal waters — expects to render its decisions by mid-February.

“Energy consumers have long recognized natural gas as a clean and efficient source of power, but our ability to supply this fuel has not kept pace with demand,” Romney says in a statement. “These new terminals will allow us to safely expand gas supply without undue harm to the environment or to the fishing industry that is Gloucester’s lifeblood.” Romney says the addition of the Northeast Gateway and Neptune LNG terminals could increase the New England natural gas supply by 20 percent.

The Northeast Gateway and Neptune LNG terminals would consist of two mooring markers attached to underwater buoys. Tankers carrying LNG would moor there and connect to the buoys. Equipment aboard the tankers would convert the liquefied gas into vapor and pump the gas into the Hubline Natural Gas Pipeline that crosses Massachusetts Bay. Boating access would be restricted for four square miles around each deep-water terminal.

The Northeast Gateway project is being proposed by Texas-based Excelerate Energy LLC (www.excelerateenergy.com). The Neptune LNG is a subsidiary of Suez Energy North America (www.suezenergy na.com).

The terminals would be in a section of ocean known as Block 125, which is an active fishing ground, especially for species like Atlantic cod, haddock and American lobster, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries says.

Because construction of the LNG terminals would affect natural resources and local commercial and recreational fisheries, Northeast Gateway and Neptune LNG each agreed to pay $23.5 million mitigation packages to help fund a number of marine-related activities. According to the Northeast Gateway mitigation package, $6.3 million would go to establishing a non-profit organization for commercial fisherman, $1.7 million for compensation for impacts to commercial lobstermen and $3 million for seafloor mapping. The Neptune LNG package will send $150,000 for the PeabodyEssexMuseum to support activities related to maritime exhibitions and $150,000 for the Essex National Heritage Area.

Despite the mitigation efforts, a number of local fishermen and city officials have spoken out against the proposals. “What will be the socioeconomic costs to a vital and historic industry and to the environment?” Gloucester mayor John Bell asks about the Northeast Gateway proposal in a 41-page letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs mailed in late November.

“The marketplace already is ensuring that natural gas will be available in New England, through better utilizing capacity in the existing pipeline infrastructure. … The market is responding and can meet projected demand without the additional loss to the environment, the risk to endangered species, harm to the fishing industry and risks to three ocean sanctuaries.”

“The proximity of these proposals to Gloucester causes the greatest economic impact an LNG terminal could impose on the fishing industry,” Vito Giacalone, president of the Gloucester Fishermen Association, says in a letter. “The fact that Gloucester is the largest port in Massachusetts Bay and the second-largest landing port in the entire northeast region is only one factor to be considered. It is the numbers of smaller vessels that hail from this port that amplifies the negative effects of losing any near-shore historical fishing areas.”

But not everyone is convinced that approving the LNG terminals was a bad idea. “These projects are proposed for federal waters, a natural resource that should be used for the good of the Commonwealth, not necessarily for the good of 150 or so fishing boats that assume it’s theirs,” says Rick Noonan, who owns a café in Gloucester. Noonan, 42, is a former director of energy for BP Amoco. “If these terminals are $5-[million] or $6-million per-year operations, and their employees drink coffee and eat my muffins on board, then I think that’s all good business.”

Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) says a long-term plan to secure energy security in New England is needed, but in the meantime approval of the Northeast Gateway and Neptune LNG offshore natural gas projects was the right choice. “Romney’s approval of two offshore LNG terminals demonstrates that there are safer alternatives to siting new LNG terminals in densely populated areas,” Markey, who is a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, says in a statement. “New England needs more LNG, but we have a responsibility to ensure that those LNG imports are delivered securely in this post-9/11 world.”

Although he admits that offshore LNG terminals are safer than onshore terminals, Salem city councilperson Sosnowski still hopes to file his class-action lawsuit by late February. “No one involved with this knows how much I make as a lobsterman every year — how much I can potentially lose. No one asked,” Sosnowski says. “Now they’re going to find out.”