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Troubled waters: the fight over LNG

Two controversial proposed liquefied natural gas facilities struggle to wend their way to government approval

Two controversial proposed liquefied natural gas facilities struggle to wend their way to government approval

The issue of transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) through major waterways in the Northeast remains as controversial as ever as significant government findings released in January could move two proposed LNG facilities toward reality.

The facilities — the offshore Broadwater terminal floating on Long Island Sound and the shoreside Weaver’s Cove facility in Fall River, Mass., on upper Narragansett Bay — still have no clear resolution in sight.

On Jan.11, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued its final environmental impact study on Broadwater to the Coast Guard for review. FERC found the project “would result in fewer environmental impacts than any alternatives considered.”

According to Ron Beck, chief of the energy and facilities branch of the First Coast Guard District of Prevention Department, the report, “essentially said that Broadwater could be safely put into operation if a whole range of conditions and mitigations were put in place. This is customary; virtually no projects go through FERC without some conditions.”

However, just days earlier, the Government Accountability Office issued a report on the overall concept of “preventing and responding to terrorist attacks on energy commodity tankers” and found the Coast Guard has “insufficient resources to meet its own self imposed security standards, such as escorting ships carrying liquefied natural gas.”

On Jan. 17, Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell solicited unity with New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, urging “do everything in your power to ensure that New York’s reviewing agencies take a long and thorough look at the proposed Broadwater project. She noted “potential disastrous environmental impacts” and both states’ responsibility to manage its submerged lands and water “for the benefit of the people, not for private exploitation and profit.”

The proposal for Broadwater has been a bone of contention for recreational boaters in New York and Connecticut, with local slogans such as “Our water, not Broadwater” popping up on bumper stickers, signs and burgees aboard pleasure boats.

The proposal is to construct a floating facility in Long Island Sound nine miles from Rocky Point to hold a reserve of imported natural gas. The proposed facility is roughly four football fields long and four stories high and would give both states a reserve of natural gas in order to fill projected shortages and bring down energy rates. The natural gas would be imported from outside sources such as Russia, liquefied in large thermal flasks and taken to LNG facilities.

The New York-based company first submitted their proposal for the project in February of 2006 to FERC to obtain a Natural Gas Facility Permit with a projected target date of approval by March 31, 2007. Beck says the organization hoped to have the facility up and running by 2010, but with upcoming public hearings there is doubt that will occur even if the project is approved.

“The permit has a couple of different licenses attached to it,” says Beck. “For instance, they need a license for the pipeline they propose for this project.”

Beck says since the northeast has no natural resources locally everything needs to be brought in from an outside source, which was the genesis behind Broadwater and Weaver’s Cove.

“Everything we do also has to meet the federal Clean Air act, and natural gas is a clean-burning fuel,” says Beck. “Our concern is whether or not this project will cause navigational and safety issues in the Sound.”

Beck says the next step for the Broadwater proposal is a series of public hearings that will be held in both Connecticut and New York which will continue for an undetermined length of time.

“Every single public comment FERC gets is recorded and considered by various agencies,” says Beck. “FERC takes all the comments, reviews them, and then makes a final decision. But I can’t tell you when that will be.”

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is also reviewing an appealed proposal for another LNG facility by Weaver’s Cove Energy located in Fall River, Mass., on Narragansett Bay.

Beck says the project got the green light from FERC with the condition that the Coast Guard approved it as a suitable location for transit.However, it was rejected by the Coast Guard on Oct. 24, 2007, announcing that the waterways of the bay were too narrow to accommodate the LNG tanker transits, according to a press release. Beck says the limited room between the old and new Brightman Street bridges in the area, which are heavily used, was the deal breaker for the project.

“The bridges are almost parallel to each other and are only about 1,100 feet apart,” says Beck. “The old bridge is only 98 feet wide and is not aligned with the new bridge opening.”

The Coast Guard stood firm on their decision even when Weaver’s Cove filed a letter on Nov. 20, 2007, claiming it had not thoroughly reviewed the supporting documentation for the proposed route.

“After a thorough review of your request, including its exhibits and other documents referenced therein, I find no substantive issue, nor new information, that would suggest my recommendation of unsuitability was incorrect or made without due consideration of the record,” stated Capt. Roy Nash, Coast Guard Captain of the Port of Providence in his response letter dated Dec. 10, 2007.

Beck says the revised proposal of Weaver’s Cove has been received by the Coast Guard and is currently under review.

“Both of these projects, they are a challenge,” says Beck. “But our first priority is always safety on the waterways.”

Public comments on Broadwater must be received in hard copy format and sent to FERC.