2011-05-12 / Editorial

Advocates for LNG terminal in bay spinning the issue

By Dan Wright

In Ted Gehrig’s Viewpoint in last week’s Press, the president of Weaver’s Cove Energy touts the company’s one-sided blog—the inappropriately named LNGFact- Check.org— and crafts a message that is heavy on spin and light on facts.

Mr. Gehrig is experienced with spin, being a registered lobbyist. Hess also bought influence using the public relations firm Ogilvy, which, by its own account, helped Hess on the project by “[leveraging] our mastery of state politics and extensive political contacts with influencers” and by exploiting media relationships. (The referenced material was recently removed from Ogilvy’s Web site.)

Mr. Gehrig could hire a team of fact checkers, and his insider status should theoretically put him at an informational advantage over Dick Lynn, a volunteer who has been serving Jamestown in its opposition to this project. Yet when trying to dispute Mr. Lynn’s assertions (Viewpoint, April 14), Mr. Gehrig resorts to quoting Weaver’s Cove itself.

Mr. Gehrig states that “nothing could be further from the truth” than Mr. Lynn’s statement that the Coast Guard’s proposed anchorage will likely be used for LNG tankers. He then quotes Weaver’s Cove’s prior assertion that “LNG tankers would not anchor under normal situations.” This statement clearly implies that under some circumstances the LNG tankers would, in fact, anchor. Indeed, I contacted Ed LeBlanc, chief of the Coast Guard’s Waterways Management Division, who confi rmed that while a standard LNG tanker transit would not involve anchoring, any number of reasons could create the need to anchor, including repairs, poor weather or missing the tide. This seems likely. The Coast Guard’s proposed anchorage is intended to be used for this purpose.

Mr. Gehrig also disparages Mr. Lynn’s use of the word “unannounced” in reference to LNG tanker arrivals. He then quotes Weaver’s Cove’s CEO, who said that, “There is no requirement to keep these vessels movements secret,” and references a free online system that can track LNG tanker movements. Of course, if an LNG tanker becomes waylaid and anchors, the tracking system will show a stationary vessel, eliminating predictability of the next transit.

Moreover, Mr. Gehrig doesn’t mention that the Coast Guard classifi es LNG tanker arrival times as “Sensitive Security Information.” While some advance notice is provided on a “need-to-know” basis, the Coast Guard’s practice is to withhold notifying the general public of a delivery until one hour beforehand over VHF radio. Realistically, what commuter has time to monitor a VHF radio or pore over blips on a screen, calculating speeds, tides and distances in hopes of avoiding the next traffic jam at the Newport Pell Bridge? Ultimately, there will be no published schedule of LNG tanker arrival times. Unannounced? For most people, yes.

In opposition to Mr. Lynn’s legitimate concerns about the negative economic impact of the project, Mr. Gehrig presents few facts to support Weaver’s Cove’s sales pitch of rescuing the economy. As the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reported last fall, domestic supplies are increasing, the price differential between the Northeast and other parts of the country is shrinking, and pipeline capacity in the Northeast is expanding rapidly. If natural gas prices fall, it may have nothing to do with Hess.

As for jobs, the environmentally disastrous loading facility with its 70-plus acres of destroyed flounder habitat and its insuffi- ciently tested cryogenic pipeline would certainly have to be built and run by somebody. But Mr. Gehrig avoids discussing how many of the touted jobs—many of which are highly specialized—are anticipated to go to current area residents.

Ultimately, Mr. Gehrig cannot demonstrate that the project’s alleged economic benefits will outweigh the negative impacts that bridge closures, bay disruption and environmental impact will have upon the local economy, not mention the safety/security concerns. An article now posted on industry website LNGWorld- News.com states, “Researchers have concluded that a catastrophic spill from the largest types of LNG tankers could trigger a flash fire that would emit massive amounts of heat, with blistering conditions reaching for more than a mile.”

And consider the comments of industry firms DNV Energy and Sutherland available online: “The global LNG markets are becoming competitive, driving companies to seek cost-savings and efficiencies. These markets also have witnessed the introduction of many new players, some with little experience in LNG logistics, driven primarily by profitability and arbitrage.”

It continued, “In combination, the imperatives of a more competitive environment may be turning safety and quality into a lower priority.” Then consider the harsh realities of BP Deepwater Horizon and Fukushima Daiichi and Sept. 11.

I don’t expect to see this posted on LNGFactCheck.org.

The author is chairman of the Jamestown Committee on LNG Threat, but writes here on his own account.

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