Monday, December 14, 2009

Hess LNG Update and FAQs

First of all, I want to thank everyone who has helped to support our LNG campaign by clicking on the petition. If you haven't done it yet, here it is...

Many have written to ask for more information on the Hess LNG proposal for the Mount Hope Bay platform. In this blog, I've compiled some of the most common questions along with my latest responses:

Hess/Weaver's Cove LNG FAQ's

Q: What is the Hess/Weaver's Cove LNG proposal for Mount Hope Bay?

A: Hess' Weaver's Cove Energy received Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval in 2005 to construct and operate a Liquefied Natural Gas tanker terminal and offloading facility in Fall River, Massachusetts.

That orginal proposal, which would have brought massive (950') LNG tankers up the Taunton River directly to the Fall River terminal, was effectively defeated after Congress designated the old Brightman Street Bridge as a historic landmark, preventing its demolition and physically blocking the tankers from reaching the terminal.

A second proposal would have brought custom-built mini-LNG tankers through the narrow bridges, but this was defeated in 2007 when the Coast Guard determined the waterway to be unsuitable for this purpose.

This third proposal, which has yet to be fully disclosed to the public, is to construct an offloading platform in the middle of Mount Hope Bay. LNG Tankers would berth at the platform and hook up to a 4.5 mile cryogenic pipeline to the terminal in Fall River.

Q: What's the status of the Mount Hope Bay proposal?

A: The Hess LNG proposal for Mount Hope Bay still needs a number of federal and state permits to begin construction. The proposal will be the subject of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is supposed to be released soon. The EIS is a detailed technical study of the proposed facility, conducted by the FERC in this case, that includes an alternatives analysis.

Once the Draft EIS (DEIS) is released, there will be an open public review and comment period, and there will be public hearings, all likely to happen within a couple of months of the release date. Please sign up for our e-mail list so we can be sure to reach you with the details on dates, times, who to address your comments to, etc.

After the DEIS, the agencies will review public comments and develop a Final EIS (FEIS). The FEIS will also have a public comment period, although more limited than the draft, and will probably NOT include hearings.

Once the FEIS is complete, the FERC will issue a Record of Decision (ROD). Only after the final ROD has been entered may any party challenge the decision in court.

Q: How long will the regulatory and permitting process take before construction may begin?

A: No one really knows for sure. In communications to its shareholders, Hess predicted that the DEIS would come out before the end of 2009. As I am blogging this on December 14th, I'm not sure how likely that is. Hess' website, is so outdated, it predicts that the project will be completed in 2009.

One possible time frame might look something like this:

Winter 2010: Draft EIS released, public hearings and comments follow for 60-90 days
Spring 2010: FERC reviews comments and issues
Summer 2010: Hess/Weaver's Cove gives up and leaves town! (we hope)
Summer 2010:Final EIS issued
Fall 2010: Record of Decision; Likely legal actions begin in 1st Circuit Federal Appeals Court

Q: Don't we need the gas? If so, what are the alternatives?

A: Save The Bay's position is that sufficient gas facilities presently exist in the region to meet our present and future needs. In addition to the Everett terminal near Boston, MA, there is an offshore terminal near Gloucester called Excelerate, and a new facility in St John, New Brunswick called Canaport. Another facility called Neptune or Suez, is also located offshore near Boston. This is expected to be online soon.

Given the recent projections about domestic natural gas supply and demand (see today's Wall Street Journal story), previous projections by Hess LNG appear to have badly missed the mark.

Of course, I'm environmental guy, but check out these quotes from a recent letter from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Regulation: "DOER asserts that it is unclear to what extent, if any, Weaver Cove's LNG is needed either to meet the region's gas supply needs or to reduce fossil use in the region. DOER contends that changes in the region's electricity and natural gas marketplaces have occurred since the Weaver's Cove project was first initiated and reviewed. FERC should consider the updated natural gas supply landscape, taking into account the new commercial alternatives, not only for gas supplies, bet also alternatives such as energy efficiency and renewable energy," (from a November 16th, 2009 letter from Philip Giudice, MA DOER Commissioner).

Be careful not to be tricked into the bogus arguments about how we either have to choose this alternative, or face shortages or price hikes. The whole purpose of the EIS and public process is to examine alternatives and then to select the least damaging one-even if that's a "no action" alternative. It's Hess' burden to show that it has selected the least damaging alternative and avoided or mitigated the impacts. So far, it has not even come close to meeting that burden.

Q: Why are winter flounder so important and would this project really destroy essential habitat?

Winter flounder is a classic New England and Narragansett Bay species that was once abundant, but its populations in the region declined severely in recent decades. (see page 21 in this report from RIDEM on Mount Hope Bay winter flounder here).

Winter flounder was once the most important commercially and recreationally fished species in the Bay. They are prized for their food and sport value, and for the fact that they can be caught near shore in the spring and fall.

Winter flounder are known to spawn in estuaries like Narragansett Bay and Mount Hope Bay, and to favor shallow areas of the upper estuary with muddy bottoms, such as the Providence River and Mount Hope Bay. Mount Hope Bay is designated as Essential Fish Habitat under the federal Magnusson Act. Studies show that winter flounder have high fidelity to their native spawning areas- in other words, they return to the places where they were born.

Mount Hope Bay, the specific location of the proposed LNG facility, is regarded as important fish habitat for flounder and other species by EPA and the other federal agencies, and was the battleground for a landmark case against Brayton Point Station, New England's largest power plant. The plant's use of cooling water was implicated in a crash of bay fish populations in the 1980s, including a more than 87% decline in winter flounder. The plant's owner, Dominion, recently reached a settlement with USEPA in which it committed $500 million to build cooling towers and protect fish habitat there.

Despite historic abuses from pollution and the power plant, Mount Hope Bay remains a vital winter flounder spawning habitat. Protecting and restoring it remains a regional, state, and federal priority. Hess LNG's proposal would impact 191 acres of in-Bay habitat. It would permanently remove 73 acres of winter flounder spawning habitat by making it too deep or filled in with the offloading platform.

Hess LNG's position is that the project will only damage a small percentage of the Bay overall, and that overfishing, rather than essential habitat destruction, is a bigger problem for the species. They also propose to mitigate for the loss of flounder with a whole range of dubious restoration activities-none of which will benefit winter flounder at all.

Our position is that you cannot restore nor protect a fish population by removing its spawning habitat. It cannot be mitigated and should not be permitted.

Q: How does the recent designation of the Taunton River as a national Wild and Scenic River affect the Hess LNG proposal?

A: The Wild and Scenic designation doesn't explicitly prohibit this proposed project, but it will certainly elevate the level of environmental review by the cooperating agencies, and will require consultation with the National Park Service.

Q: Don't we already have oil and gas tankers coming up the Bay and how is this different?

A: LNG tankers do not presently come to Narragansett Bay, although other types of oil and gas tank vessels do come into the Bay regularly. The most similar tankers that come the Bay into Providnece today are called LPG tankers, for Liquefied Petroleum Gas. LPG tankers come up the Bay only a handful of times each year, and are accompanied by strict security/exclusion zones.

One key difference between this and the Hess LNG proposal is the frequency of trips. Another is the scale of operations. The proposal estimates approximately 70 tankers per year, which would result in more impact to the rest of the users of the Bay-including other commercial and industrial users. These massive LNG tankers and their security zones will close down the Bay as they move through the East Passage and into Mount Hope Bay.

The existing mix of uses in the Bay, gas and oil shipping included, is part of a balance in which each user group respects each others' rights to our public and shared waterways. Hess LNG's proposal would dramatically disrupt that balance and dominate the landscape and environment of the Bay.

Q: I want to get more involved. What can I do?

A: Sign up on Save The Bay's website here for LNG e-mails. We'll send you regular action alerts, news, and information about the project. Sign the petition, and send it along to anyone who might be interested. When the time comes, we will need volunteers to write letters, attend hearings, meetings, and generally help to spread the word. Every person makes a difference!

More FAQ will follow. If you have a question or comment, please e-mail me at jtorgan@savebay.org and I'll answer it here on the Baykeeper blog. Thanks, JT

2 comments:

  1. This is great, thanks John!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous6:05 PM

    As I understand it, the Coast Guard was strongly against the proposal, so they replaced with a new CG head. FERC is politicized, highly influenced by the power industry. Lots of dirty pool in the early negos - closed meetings with no public access. Plans were begun before more reserves found so this project makes no real sense. A huge backdoor deal being rammed through by "big bidness." Do you buy gas at Hess?

    ReplyDelete