Weaver’s Cove takes LNG proposal off the table
Citing “unfavorable economics for liquefied natural gas in the New England region,” Hess LNG President Gordon Shearer said this week that the company would withdraw applications with state and federal agencies for the Weaver’s Cove LNG project in Fall River, Mass.
“It’s exciting,” said Dan Wright, chairman of the Jamestown Committee against LNG Threat. “I think our region is sighing relief.”
“I think this is absolutely wonderful news for Jamestown,” Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said. “We thought we were in for a big legal challenge from Hess and we were anticipating it.”
Keiser added that he was surprised by the announcement. “I didn’t hear any whispers or anything that hinted that Hess would decide to abandon [the proposal].”
Hess LNG released a press release Monday breaking the surprising news. “The significant increase in natural gas production from shale resources in North America resulting in lower prices as well as the growth in demand for LNG in the rest of the world,” Shearer said, “make it unlikely the company can secure supplies of LNG on economic terms attractive enough to ensure the sustained profitability of the project.” The proposal for the floating terminal was estimated to cost $700 million.
Although Weaver’s Cove Energy – which had its Web site removed late Tuesday evening and is owned by the Hess Corporation – is claiming economic issues as the reason for nixing the project (“None whatsoever,” Shearer told the Fall River Herald News, referring to the influence that opposition had towards the decision), local officials believe that their efforts in opposition over the years had a significant effect on Hess’ decision to abandon the proposal.
“The economics have been gradually skewing against this project,” Wright said. “However, I disagree that local opinion had nothing to do with it. The project would have been built already if not for the delays that were caused by the opposition. A lot of credit goes to Fall River for bringing issues to light and causing the project to remain on hold until the economic tides turned.”
LNG project proposals began popping up all over New England in the early 2000s, and the initial Fall River application was put forward in 2002. It was this proposal that caught the attention of most islanders, since the pitch was to erect a terminal in Mount Hope Bay.
The Federal Energy Regulation Commission approved the Fall River application in 2005, but opposition led by U.S. Rep. James McGovern blocked funding from the federal government to demolish the 100-year-old defunct Brightman Street Bridge, which had to be removed in order for the 950-foot-long tankers to reach the terminal. From there, LNG would travel four miles up the Taunton River – which is located about 20 miles from Narragansett Bay – by way of an underwater pipe system.
Jamestown’s coming-out party as opponents to the proposal was during a presentation on Aug. 30, 2006, when representatives of Weaver’s Cove Energy – including Shearer – arrived at the Jamestown Philomenian Library meeting hall to give a presentation to the Town Council.
“We have to use less gas, or we have to expand the supply by bringing in more LNG,” Shearer said at the presentation.
About 80 people were in attendance, including a busload of Fall River residents. Since the demolition of the bridge was blocked, Weaver’s Cove suggested smaller ships – 750 feet long with a beam of 80 feet and a draft of 36 feet (as opposed to the 950-foot-long ships, which included a 145-foot beam) – be used to berth at Mount Hope Bay. The plan called for about 120 tankers to travel though Narragansett Bay each year – a total of 240 transits. This total was later reduced to 70 tankers per year.
With the LNG controversy heating up, Jamestown officially organized a committee, which held its inaugural meeting on June 10, 2010. The Town Council-approved Committee on LNG Threat’s mission was “gathering, managing and disseminating information pertaining to the planned transport of liquefied natural gas through the East Passage of Narragansett Bay to a terminal to be constructed in Mount Hope Bay.” The committee consisted of Wright, Vice Chairman Dick Lynn, Secretary Peter Converse, Martin Keen and Lowell Thomas.
Just three months after organizing, Jamestown and the Committee on LNG Threat hosted the first Congress of Councils at the recreation center. More than 120 people showed up for the congress, including U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, state Rep. Deb Ruggiero, state Sen. Lou DiPalma, gubernatorial candidates Frank Caprio and Lincoln Chafee, Attorney General Patrick Lynch, and representatives from the Jamestown, Warren, Little Compton, Fall River, Newport, Middletown, North Kingstown and Portsmouth town councils.
Whitehouse said that the proposal put Narragansett Bay – “the heart of Rhode Island” – at risk. Lynch added that the transits of the tankers would cause 140 bridge closures of both the Jamestown and Newport bridges.
The second Congress of Councils was held on Feb. 9 in Fall River, but unlike the first meeting, this gathering was closed to the public and press, as a strategic ploy to keep Hess officials out of the building. The congress was an invitation-only conference, and Steve Torres, corporation counsel for Fall River, said Hess was not invited.
Although the press release from Hess is welcome news for most residents of the region, Wright said that he is remaining cautious. He said that he would not split up the LNG threat committee until he was 100 percent sure that the proposal was over. He still planned for the panel to meet last night at its regularly scheduled time at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.
“We are remaining vigilant until we are sure that all the permits and all the applications that were applied for are withdrawn,” Wright said. “We won’t disband until we have confirmation that this thing is dead.”
Although Wright is keeping one eye open, he is still optimistic that the proposal is no longer a threat to the community. “I can’t imagine Hess issuing a press release and not following through,” he said. Wright also mentioned that he is interested to see if Hess sends a videographer to the committee meeting. “Since it’s an open meeting,” he said, “Hess has been sending someone to videotape us. I’m interested to see if someone is shows up.”
Another component of Hess’ decision that affects Jamestown is the $40,000 that was included in the capital improvement fund that was passed at this month’s Financial Town Meeting. The $40,000 line item was set aside for legal fees to combat the LNG proposal. With the proposal dead, the town now has that money open for other uses.
“From a financial standpoint,” Keiser said, “it’s $40,000 that we don’t have to spend now.”
“This is a victory for common sense and public safety,” U.S. Sen. John Kerry said, “and people up and down the Taunton River will be sleeping more soundly tonight knowing that this long fight has been won.”