2010-04-28 / Front Page

LNG threat outlined by port foes

By Phil Zahodiakin

Several of the state’s most outspoken opponents of the liquefied natural gas facility proposed for Mt. Hope Bay presented their arguments to a packed house during a forum at the Jamestown Senior Center last Monday evening.

The “Conversation about Our Bay” was hosted by Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed and Rep. Deborah Ruggiero. Featured speakers included Attorney General Patrick Lynch, Save the Bay Baykeeper John Torgan and R.I. Marine Trades Association Legislative Chair Michael Keyworth.

Officials of Weaver’s Cove Energy, which is seeking a permit for the LNG platform in partnership with Amerada Hess, also attended the forum. But they declined to field questions from the audience, explaining that they wouldn’t have as much time for their replies as they would need.

Besides providing a stage for the speakers to explain their opposition to the facility, the forum also yielded an important piece of news – namely, that the pending environmental impact statement for the proposal has hit a snag. The draft EIS is being prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has the final say on permits for natural gas distribution facilities.

The draft EIS will provide a preliminary assessment of the ecological risks from a LNG berthing facility built in the bay. After reviewing public comments on the draft, FERC will issue a final EIS – which will clear the way for a facility permit if the final assessment grants the LNG proposal a passing grade.

Torgan said that there are 53 subordinate permits that Weaver’s Cove must also obtain before construction could proceed.

Nevertheless, “If the EIS is favorable towards the proposal, we will be in the fight of our lives,” he said.

Torgan also revealed that “one of the reasons the draft EIS is in limbo is that a Transportation Department review of the computer model used to predict what would happen to the LNG if there was a leak in the cryogenic pipeline has determined that the model can’t be used. The company says this is a ‘minor hang-up,’ but it’s not. It’s a major hang-up.”

Referring to the dredging necessary to dig a channel through the sediments of Mt. Hope Bay, where 73 acres of spawning grounds for winter flounder would be destroyed, Torgan said, “The dredging permit is an environmental non-starter. The spawning grounds would be irretrievably lost.”

Keyworth prefaced his remarks by saying, “People who know me wouldn’t say I’m a ‘tree hugger’ or an alarmist, but I’m alarmed by this proposal.”

Referring to the exclusionary “bubbles” that the Coast Guard requires around transiting LNG tankers, Keyworth warned that Weaver’s Cove may hire such military contractors as Blackwater to keep other vessels, including pleasure boats, away from the 1,000-foot-long tankers.

“Rhode Island hosts 71 regattas a year,” Keyworth said. “What will sailors do if there isn’t much wind? How will they get out of the way?”

Keyworth also warned that regatta sponsors will hold their races elsewhere if they expect to encounter disruptions from unannounced LNG tanker transits into the East Passage and on up the Bay. The loss of those regattas will cost the marine services industry jobs, Keyworth said, adding, “It’s a shameful lie to say the LNG facility will ‘create jobs.’”

Earlier in the forum, Lynch assailed as “insulting” the Weaver’s Cove claim that the LNG facility is “a job winner for Rhode Island.”

Later, he ascribed to a FERC analysis his repeated warnings that the facility would provide only 30 permanent jobs, adding that FERC itself has concluded that the economic impacts of LNG facilities on local economies are “‘temporary and minimal.’”

Referring to accusations of inaccuracy in his warnings against the proposed facility and the risks of LNG transport, Lynch – who stressed that he was not opposed to LNG as an energy source – said that he has never based his statements on anything but government studies and other verifiable information.

Conversely, he assailed as “sickening” the Providence Journal editorials touting LNG’s safety and economic benefits.

“I dispute the claim that there aren’t any LNG incidents,” Lynch said. “There are incidents from Cleveland to Algeria. There was an incident in Ludlow [Mass.] just a couple of days ago.”

Alluding to assurances that the exclusionary “bubbles” around transiting tankers wouldn’t necessarily affect pleasure boats, Lynch said that he rode aboard a LNG tanker entering Boston Harbor and observed that the tanker escorts provided passage “free and clear of any other boats.”

He added that he also observed the shutdown of two runways at Logan Airport, along with a shutdown of the Tobin Bridge.

Additionally, Lynch said, the exclusionary “bubbles” would be enforced while the tankers were offloading their LNG.

“That will take up to 24 hours,” said Lynch, adding that the “bubbles” for stationary tankers, along with the transits, would prevent him and his neighbors from participating in the sailing and kayaking they take for granted in Mt. Hope Bay.

In that regard, Lynch noted that supporters of the facility are accusing its opponents of a notin my-back-yard mentality.

“For me, this isn’t just a NIMBY issue,” he said. “It’s a not-inmy front- yard issue.”

Referring to his tanker ride in Boston, Lynch added that, “Once you’re past Hull, there aren’t any populated areas. But there are 63,000 Rhode Islanders living within the immediate path of destruction – not to mention the people who happen to be on the water.”

Lynch told the audience that many of his fears about the risks of LNG shipments in Narragansett Bay were substantiated by an analysis performed for his office by former National Security Advisor Richard Clarke, whose book, “Against All Enemies,” strongly advises against allowing LNG transits into U.S. ports – particularly those in heavily populated areas.

Moreover, his report to Lynch said that “the 23-mile inland waterway transit to Mt. Hope Bay provides opportunity for attack by aircraft, divers, small boats [and] small arms from shore.”

Asked what Jamestowners could do to fight the proposed facility, Keyworth said, “This fight is far from over,” adding, “You should stop buying all Hess products.”

Lynch replied, “Having been in this fight for six years, I know that the companies are relentless and their resources are greater than the law firms. The way for you to fight this proposal is by forcing a public dialogue with equal resolve.”

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