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Gas terminal in L.I. Sound ‘unthinkable’

Politicians, boating and environmental groups protest the proposed liquefied natural gas terminal

Politicians, boating and environmental groups protest the proposed liquefied natural gas terminal

A boisterous, standing-room only crowd gathered at a Connecticut high school in mid-January to protest a controversial plan to construct a floating liquefied natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound.

Broadwater Energy, a joint venture by TransCanada and Shell Oil, has proposed a terminal that would be moored in the middle of Long Island Sound — 11 miles from the Connecticut shore and 9 miles from Long Island. The proposed terminal would be 1,200 feet long and 10 stories high, about the size of the Queen Mary 2.

Broadwater says the project will have little effect on Long Island Sound.

But environmentalists, legislators and residents have been vocal in opposing the LNG terminal, citing concerns about safety, potential environmental impact and encroachment on public waters.

“Long Island Sound is our Yellowstone. It should be unthinkable to set an LNG terminal in the middle of it. Yet, here we are,” said Congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT), in a statement read at the hearing by an aide at Branford (Conn.) High School.

Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s attorney general, urged federal regulators to reject the proposal. If not, he says he will exhaust all legal avenues to quash it.

“We will fight to the highest court in this country, because it is not only immoral, it is illegal,” he said.

Supporters say the project will meet growing demand for natural gas, which could exceed supply in the coming years. Natural gas burns cleaner than most fossil fuels.

Also, some said the terminal would generate economic benefits, including reduced utility bills and a number of new jobs the project would bring to the area.

But opponents say Long Island Sound, which has undergone extensive cleanup campaigns in recent years, is not suitable for a gas plant. They point to offshore locations as better alternatives.

“This is the beginning of industrialization of Long Island Sound,” said Joseph Maturo Jr., mayor of East Haven.

Some at the hearing expressed frustration that Connecticut has been largely shut out of the approval process. Because the terminal would be located in New York waters, the EmpireState is a part in the permitting process. That does not bode well with some Connecticut residents, who say the project will largely benefit New York consumers, but will have lasting impact on a Connecticut resource.

Some opponents feared the terminal would be a floating target for terrorist attacks.

The terminal, the length of two football fields, would be surrounded by a security zone and no vessels would be allowed in that zone. In addition, tankers making deliveries would have a security zone around them. The terminal would receive shipments from LNG tankers several times a week.

That could be a problem for boaters in The Race, a narrow entryway to the Sound. When tankers transit The Race, recreational vessels will be forced to leave the area. It would take several minutes for the tankers and its security entourage to pass through.

The Coast Guard, after a yearlong study, says it can make the waters of Block Island Sound and Long Island Sound suitable for LNG vessel traffic. However, additional measures would have to be taken.

In a statement issued before the hearing, Blumenthal said the Coast Guard is not equipped to protect the project. He adds that the Coast Guard’s Deepwater modernization project is “plagued by delays, cost overruns and design failures,” so the agency will not have adequate ships to protect the project for some time.

“For the foreseeable future, the Coast Guard cannot effectively enforce the minimum required security zones around the Broadwater project and its supply tankers,” said Blumenthal. “Therefore this project cannot receive FERC approval.”

If built, the terminal would supply gas to the two states. LNG is a natural gas that has been cooled to 260 degrees F to make it a liquid, and therefore more efficient and stable to transport. At the station, the liquid would be warmed to a gaseous state then piped through a 22-mile pipeline connected to an existing pipeline.

FERC in November released an 800-page draft environmental impact statement on Broadwater, which concludes the project will have minimal impact. The next step is a final impact statement, expected this spring.

The Broadwater project is one of several LNG terminals that have been proposed recently. Terminals are being built in Canada and two recently were approved by Massachusetts.

The Jan. 16 meeting was the last of four public hearings held in Connecticut and New York. The hearings were organized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, with representatives from the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers. A final decision is not expected for months.