Spread of LNG Terminals Sparks Debate
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
Because there are no road signs, you might easily miss the nation's largest liquid natural gas terminal, which is sheltered by 800 acres of woods and a freshwater marsh along the Chesapeake Bay.
The terminal, built 30 years ago under a special environmental agreement, is one of just four in the country where tankers can unload the super-cooled fuel -- condensed to a liquid 1/600 its normal volume. After sitting idle from 1980 to 2003, the southern Maryland site took in about 1/3 of the nation's natural gas imports last year as the cost and demand for gas skyrocketed.
"We think this is a good location to help supply [natural gas] and still be invisible to people," said Michael Frederick, director of the terminal which is owned by the power company Dominion.
While Cove Point is poised to profit from the fast-growing market, its quiet location and the longstanding cooperation with environmentalists has largely protected it from controversy facing similar proposals in other states. Officials in California, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island are fighting to prevent new gas terminals or at least ensure that states retain authority over the approval of those sites.
Local governments and activists are also opposing potential terminals in Maine and Oregon.
But Louisiana and Texas, traditional energy-producing states, are moving quickly to build new terminals or expand existing ones to create jobs and provide cheaper energy for both industry and residents. And natural gas proponents argue that importing liquid natural gas is a proven way to meet consumers' conflicting demands for an affordable energy source that pollutes less than coal.
Nearly 40 new natural gas ports are proposed for U.S. waters, clustered mostly in New England and the Gulf of Mexico. In the past, states have taken a central role in determining if and where those facilities could be built. But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has more recently decided that its authority supersedes state law and President Bush's energy bill, which has passed the U.S. House, would further extend federal authority to approve new sites.
Those moves have sparked a bipartisan backlash in the states.
- California and Rhode Island have both filed federal lawsuits this year, asserting that proposed liquid natural gas terminals, in Long Beach, Ca. and Providence, R.I., should fall under state jurisdiction.
- Along with the lawsuits, Rhode Island's Gov. Don Carcieri (R) and officials from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) administration also have filed their opposition to further limiting state authority over new liquid natural gas facilities.
- The California state Senate is considering a resolution asking the President and Congress to preserve state oversight of terminals, and a bill that would require a study of how many liquid natural gas terminals are needed to meet the state's energy needs.
- In February, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources rejected a proposed liquid natural gas terminal in the Delaware River
- Connecticut's Attorney General has vowed to stop a terminal proposed for Long Island Sound.
- The Connecticut state Senate is considering a task force to monitor possible health and safety impacts of that project, which would lie in New York state waters.
However, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) is aggressively promoting new liquid natural gas facilities in her state's coastal waters. Expansion of an existing terminal and two new terminals have already been approved by federal regulators. And four deepwater natural gas ports, which employ newer, specially designed ships, are proposed for Louisiana's coastal waters.
A new liquid natural gas facility also has been approved for Freeport, Texas and eight other proposed sites have been proposed with little controversy.
The problem is not necessarily the terminals themselves, but that they are proposed near major cities, says Mary Marsh of the Maryland Conservation Council, one of the groups that has a conservation contract with Cove Point.
A terminal is proposed for the nation's busiest Port of Long Beach, Ca. and the Rhode Island terminal would be in the waters off of Providence.
Peggy Laramie, a spokeswoman for the American Gas Association, counters that it's the densely populated areas that most need and use the natural gas, and there are too few pipelines to meet the rising demand.
"If California does not get its [natural gas] from Long Beach and doesn't want offshore drilling, what is their plan?" she asks. "