2011-04-14 / Editorial

Potential LNG anchorage proposed offshore in Rhode Island Sound

By Dick Lynn

The Arctic Princess, an LNG tanker. The Arctic Princess, an LNG tanker. According to sources close to federal permitting of liquefied natural gas, it was recently stated, via the Federal Register, that the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has delegated to the U.S. Coast Guard authority that “would remove an obsolete and no longer used anchorage in Narragansett Bay from the Code of Federal Regulations, and formalize an area of Rhode Island Sound that under current informal practice is routinely used by mariners as an anchorage while waiting to enter Narragansett Bay.”

Simply put, the Coast Guard and Homeland Security proposed an offshore anchorage in Rhode Island Sound, south of Brenton Point, for use by vessels waiting to enter Narragansett Bay. This would likely include LNG tankers. This is the spot where we currently see what we now consider very large tankers waiting to enter our bay. LNG tankers would dwarf them and be visible nearly every other day as we look out to sea.

Comments on the proposal must be submitted by Wednesday, April 20. Or — in a week. Our citizens were only given 30- days notice, not publicized other than the register.

According to the Coast Guard, “Prior to anchoring in the proposed anchorage area all vessels would be required to notify the [captain of the port] and unless otherwise approved by the COTP, all vessels must depart the anchorage area within 96 hours. This is necessary to ensure that an adequate anchorage area remains available close to the entrance to Narragansett Bay for vessels waiting.”

This certainly conflicts with the statements previously made by Hess and the Coast Guard that LNG tankers must come in unannounced, due to potential terrorism concerns, and would likely make them quite obvious when they plan to transit.

This would be a foot in the door of our waters for Weaver’s Cover Energy — which is owned by Hess — and its LNG vessels before they then transit up the East Passage to the proposed Mount Hope Berthing Station, and could be the first step in Hess’ attempt to establish their LNG terminal in our bay.

The Federal Register notice also states that the Coast Guard has made a preliminary determination that the action is excluded from the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Coast Guard has a guidance document on determining categorical exclusions from NEPA. The informal anchorage, which the Coast Guard now wants to formalize, was never subject to NEPA review because it was never a formal action until now.

The Coast Guard has asked for comment on whether environmental impacts — including all potential safety, security, socioeconomic and impacts to other NEPA interests — exist and should be studied. Given that LNG vessels should typically require an exclusion zone around them while at the anchorage, there is a reason to argue that a categorical exclusion in this case is not warranted and that LNG tankers should be included.

If you want to file comments, the procedure for doing so is in the Federal Register notice. The time is short and our Town Council addressed this issue last week. It was recommended that the town file comments so as to not give Weaver’s Cove a foot in the door. The Council voted 4-1 to file comments.

For those in our state who object, they have until April 20. Should you or your organization want to file comment, you could consult town officials, the Committee on LNG Threat or a host of other officials and organizations, such as your U.S. senators or representatives, your state offi cials, or organizations such as Save the Bay or the Conservation Law Foundation.

As previously stated, the Coast Guard also says it should be excluded from NEPA and that should be challenged. NEPA requires an environmental impact statement that takes into account not only effects on the environment, but on the economic and personal well-being of communities.

The Coast Guard has stated that there would be no impact, but in their draft, they have not considered LNG. They never had an impact statement for this site previously. It seems the Coast Guard should require an impact analysis and allow public comment. It also seems that they should follow legal requirements for NEPA.

We, as citizens affected by this, should demand that this statement should take into account the effects of LNG vessels with exclusion zones. It should take into account the potential for economic and safety issues such a zone would incur, including our half of the state’s focus on tourism and the marine trades and fishing industries.

Any environmental impact statement could be six months out or longer. This would pertain to the cryogenic pipeline model under Mount Hope Bay for the state Department of Transportation.

We all know the reasons we have opposed LNG in our bay to date and a majority of Rhode Islanders oppose it for obvious reasons. Studies by those appointed or elected to protect our citizenry have already shown that it will affect a large number of jobs in this half of the state due to bridge closings, three-mile moving security zones and a number of other issues. They have been in previous articles, but remember they would mean a shutdown of the bay nearly every other day until the massive tankers transit up the bay, at high tide, carrying the equivalent of nearly two billion cubic feet of LNG past our population.

Yes, it will mean a few jobs for those who hope to pilot one of these tankers or perhaps 20 to 35 permanent jobs for workers possibly from this area, as are established in Canada’s Canaport facility, which is nearly four times the size of this proposed facility. But it would likely cost jobs for those who make their living off of tourism and related industries in this area. It is a large price to pay for giving our bay over to a private company through socialized granting of rights by our government.

Again, Weaver’s Cove could alleviate this certain hit to our bay’s economy and environment by merely doing as another facility in Gloucester, Mass., has done. They can simply site it offshore by 20 miles and this issue goes away for all of us.

Perhaps the money to be made is far too much by siting it in the middle of our bay. But a six-story structure in the middle of Mount Hope Bay with a security zone around it is not truly offshore.

Also, the Coast Guard notes that these vessels will be transiting at 5 knots — approximately 7 mph. For a three-mile security zone to pass, that would require about 25 minutes and not the 10 minutes currently being promised by Weaver’s Cove. And, as anyone who lives or visits here knows, 25 minutes is the beginning and end of the passage.

The closing beforehand of the bridges and the reopening afterwards, with traffic backups likely over the Jamestown Bridge, are usually much more. This will not help commerce, our ability to get to hospitals or the way of life we have known.

I say one more time to Hess/ Weaver’s Cove: We are all shareholders in Rhode Island and the Narragansett Bay, and as shareholders, we want to keep our bay and our use of the bay. Please site this offshore — or go away.

To see the chart of the Coast Guard’s checklist for this siting, go to http://edocket.access.gpo. gov/ 2011/ pdf/ 2011- 6498. pdf. Add LNG tankers and security zones to the left column, and see if you think you get the “no issue” that the Coast Guard posts in the center column. Then look at their remarks in the right column and see if you feel they are correct or need correction.

Dick Lynn is writing this column as a concerned citizen. It is not meant to represent the views of the Jamestown Committee on LNG Threat, which he is a member.

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