Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Environmental Impacts of the Flood WJAR Interview

Here's an interview I did with WJAR's Patrice Wood on the news this evening on the flood impacts to the Bay:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Storm Update

I just heard from Save The Bay's Chief Captain, Eric Pfirrmann, who is at Save The Bay's Exploration Center at the Easton's Beach Pavilion in Newport. He reports that the road is closed and conditions are "pretty nasty", but no catastrophic failures so far. High tide was at 8:55PM, so it is now dropping, but it is still raining here in Providence. We'll keep you posted if anything happens overnight. JT

Impacts of Flooding on the Bay

Already today, we have seen the storm of the century on Narragansett Bay. Storm estimates approach 8 inches of rain, smashing records eveywhere in Rhode Island.

While the immediate priorities are to keep people safe and to protect homes and businesses, what kind of impacts does this have on the Bay?

For one thing, millions and millions of gallons of untreated sewage are pouring into the rivers as I write this. That means that the flood waters in the street may be contaminated by sewage. Wastewater treatment plants around the Bay and rivers are overwhelmed. I just heard that the Warwick treatment plant is closed and may be underwater before it's over.

Also, we are watching the developing situation around Easton's Beach in Newport carefully. The earthen dam that forms the 'moat' is under serious strain and it's possible that it may fail in the next few hours.

The sewer overflows and bacteria contamination will certainly close much of the Bay and coast to shellfishing and swimming temporarily. We would expect those effects to last a couple of weeks, more or less, depending on the weather. Within a few weeks, we do expect the water to be clean and safe again.

Lots of trash will wind up on the shores. Come join one of Save The Bay's many cleanups to help with that.

Erosion on South County's coast will be severe. Habitat restoration in the ponds, on the dunes, and forested or marshy buffers are our best natural defense. Nothing can defend against a storm like this, though, so we'll just have to wait and see.

In many ways, a big rain and flood is good for the Bay. It flushes out the river systems, pushing out debris, making new channels, beaches, and sandbars as it demolishes the old ones. In the end, the Bay will be better for it.

In the meantime, stay dry, and stay tuned. -JT

Friday, March 12, 2010

See Through The LNG Spin

I was glad to see that no one, other than those with a vested interest, believed Gordon Shearer, CEO of Hess LNG in his gratuitous rant before the RI Senate LNG Commission Tuesday.

Even the Providence Journal, which does its best to cheerlead the project from the editorial page, couldn't help but note that Hess stood alone there in support of it.

Shearer says his project will lower gas prices. Bogus. He has absolutely no control over that and can't back it up. His projections are all totally self-serving and skewed.

He says the standard Coast Guard security exclusion zones used in Narragansett Bay for LPG vessels won't necessarily apply to Hess. Again, who cares what Hess figureheads have to say about this?! They have nothing to do with that decision. We'll listen to the Coast Guard, thank you.

Go ahead, attack this on LNG fact check. No one believes you. -JT

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Projo Op-ed On LNG

The following commentary piece ran in today's Providence Journal:

John Torgan: Deconstructing LNG project

01:00 AM EST on Thursday, March 4, 2010


It’s not surprising that Ted Gehrig of Weaver’s Cove Energy attacked Rhode Island legislators in his Feb. 18 Commentary piece, “LNG worrywarts ignore facts, kill jobs.” Consider the source: Gehrig and the folks at Hess are in this for private gain at the public’s expense. Naturally, they dismiss opponents as hysterical, and say anything to solicit support for their latest scheme to take over the East Bay with their mega-liquefied-natural-gas operations. It’s obvious to me that the proposed Hess project would damage the environment, hurt the local economy and effectively privatize what is now a public waterway.

We are fortunate that our elected officials see through Hess’s nonsense and put the public’s interest over that of the gas and oil industry. We’re proud that so many of our leaders recognize that there are safer and more environmentally sustainable ways to get our natural gas and other energy at a fair price.

In fact, there are now four LNG terminals in the Northeast equipped to serve the same market. This, coupled with recent domestic natural-gas discoveries, fundamentally challenges the need for the Hess project to go forward. Even Massachusetts’s Department of Energy Resources questioned the public benefit claims of Weaver’s Cove, asserting in a November letter that “it is unclear to what extent, if any, Weaver Cove’s LNG supply is needed either to meet the region’s gas supply needs or to reduce fossil use.”

Gehrig brushes off concerns about the environment, asserting that the Providence River dredging project’s successful completion assures the same happy ending for Hess. He mischaracterizes the position of Save the Bay and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed to make his point. That’s wrong. The Providence River project maintained an existing channel for public benefit. The Hess project requires massive new dredging and construction of a platform in a previously untouched area of the Bay bottom for private and exclusive benefit. Gehrig asserts that the dredge spoils are clean enough to dump off Rhode Island’s coast, and asserts the right to do that. We’d like to see the data before they start dumping.

Gehrig asserts that the Hess project “will not contribute to a decline of winter flounder nor will it slow their recovery.” He says overfishing is to blame. But, according to its own documents, the Hess LNG project would affect 191 acres of flounder habitat, permanently eliminating 73 acres of essential spawning habitat. With the flounder fishery now closed, and the owners of Brayton Point Power Plant now investing $620 million to comply with regulations designed to protect the fish populations, Gehrig’s claims defy logic. The fish of Mount Hope Bay will never have a chance to recover if Hess gets its way.

On the bridge closures and other safety issues, Gehrig complains that required safety and security measures are unjustified. Then, out the other side of his mouth, he says Weaver’s Cove will pay for and provide all safety and security resources above what the state and federal governments can offer. How can we be confident that Hess will provide for the public’s safety when its people deny any risk?

Hess asserts that the disruption to the other users will be minimal and compares LNG tankers to other ships coming into the Bay. But LNG ships do not now come into Narragansett Bay. Smaller liquefied petroleum gas tankers do come to Providence a handful of times a year. Under the Hess proposal, we could expect 70 LNG tanker round-trips a year. Given the miles-long security exclusion zone that accompanies these tankers, it is easy to see how LNG might quickly become the dominant user of the waterway, and drive away other water-dependent businesses.

Note that the international LNG industry organization, SIGGTO, has established recommended minimum siting standards and criteria for LNG facilities. SIGGTO recommends that LNG terminals be sited to avoid densely populated areas, located so as not to conflict with other waterway uses, and to avoid long, narrow, inland waterways. By its own industry’s standards, Hess’s proposal fails on all counts.

Finally, Gehrig asks us to trust the federal government’s permitting process to answer all our questions and to address our concerns. So far, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and other federal agencies have done absolutely nothing to respond to the public’s environmental and safety concerns regarding this project. It’s not too late for them to do the right thing. As they are subjected to pressure from the oil and gas industry these agencies need to listen harder to the public they serve.

We remember that FERC ignored environmental and safety concerns in granting a 2005 license for an earlier version of the Hess plan. Thankfully, Massachusetts state lawmakers stopped that LNG proposal by declaring the old Brightman Street Bridge a historic landmark, preventing the tankers from passing through. So, we thank our legislators for acting to protect us where the federal agencies let us down. And we strengthen our resolve to choose the right future for the Bay that we own and share together.