Author Topic: Blanco vetoes natural gas port  (Read 453 times)

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Blanco vetoes natural gas port
« on: May 07, 2006, 09:10:03 AM »
Title: Blanco vetoes natural gas port
        Fears for fisheries take front seat over possible economic benefits
Author: Pam Radtke Russell
Date: 05/06/2006

Placing the state's environment over its economy, Gov. Kathleen Blanco on Friday night vetoed a proposed billion-dollar liquefied natural gas port off Louisiana's coast because of the impact it might have on the state's fisheries.

The Main Pass Energy Hub, proposed by New Orleans-based Freeport McMoRan Energy LLC, would have been about 16 miles off Louisiana's coast and would have supplied about 350 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year, enough to supply a state the size of Mississippi for a year. But the jobs and natural gas the port would have brought into the state were apparently outweighed by concerns that the port could kill billions of fish eggs and larvae as it sucked in seawater to reheat the supercooled gas.

"As stewards of the public trust, this office and our state agencies and executive departments, have both a constitutional and a statutory duty to preserve and protect Louisiana's coastal and offshore marine environment, ecosystem, and fisheries for the benefit of our current and future citizens. The approval of the pending license application, without sufficient persuasive data in support, would be inconsistent with this public trust doctrine," Blanco wrote in her letter of opposition to the federal Maritime Administration.

Blanco's opposition to the project means that the project as designed is dead. Blanco had until Monday to support or oppose the port. The Maritime Administration provides permits for the ports.

She said in her veto that she would support a closed loop system that uses gas, rather than water, to reheat the supercooled gas. But Freeport has said that option would cut too deeply into its profits.

Freeport initially applied for a permit more than two years ago and has invested $20 million in studies and design.

Reviewing options

In a statement Friday night, the company said it will have to review its options before deciding what it might do next with the project.

"We are disappointed in this initial response to our permit application," said Bill Collier, vice president of communications for Freeport. "Our project would provide a critically needed boost to the Louisiana economy and help keep natural gas prices lower for all consumers."

Freeport has said that Main Pass' annual economic impact would be $85.6 million, and that it would produce as many as 900 jobs during a three-year design and construction period.

The project would use platforms Freeport previously used for sulfur mining and could have been operating by 2009, right about the time the Energy Information Administration predicts that U.S. demand will outstrip its supply of natural gas.

The port would have been the third such facility in Louisiana. The first was approved by former Gov. Mike Foster.

Blanco approved Shell's Gulf Landing LNG terminal, which relies on the open loop system, off Louisiana's coast and had previously declared that the state was "open for business" to the LNG industry. But she was quickly criticized by fisheries experts and environmentalists for her action.

Open loop questioned

Last May, Blanco told the federal government that she would oppose future LNG facilities that use seawater to heat the gas, called open loop systems, until such systems were proved not to have a harmful impact on marine life. In a letter to Blanco this week, state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Dwight Landreneau told Blanco that since last year, the open loop systems have not been shown to be harmful but that there's still not enough information available to support the systems.

"Lack of data has been LDWF's main concern throughout the licensing deliberations for all of the proposed deepwater port LNG terminals," Landreneau wrote.

State officials and environmentalists have said they support LNG terminals, but only with a closed loop system. "We recognize the need for these terminals to provide an important product for America," said Walter Fondren III, the national chairman for the Coastal Conservation Association. "But we also realize that this goal can be achieved without taking such a huge risk with our marine resources. As long as open-loop systems, and the risk they represent to our marine life, are off the table, CCA is not opposed to McMoRan Exploration developing this facility."

Changes to system

Freeport had sought to mitigate concerns about open loop technology by minimizing the amount of water taken in, the depth at which the water would be taken and by screening out the amount of sealife that might be sucked into the system.

Also, they pledged to shut down the Main Pass terminal if there were no way to avoid or mitigate the deaths of redfish, shrimp, tuna or other species.

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the project with Freeport's changes and recommended a few minor modifications. Last month, the Coast Guard, which conducted an environmental review of Main Pass, said the marine impacts would be moderate to minor. The project was supported by Louisiana industries, especially chemical plants, which said that cheap natural gas is necessary to keep their plants operating.

But Blanco and her staff said there isn't enough information to make an informed decision about the impact Freeport would have on fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico, especially when Freeport's impact is combined with that of other LNG ports.

"Despite our best efforts to work with your agency and LNG developers, based on the inadequacy of current data, we are unable to reach an acceptable comfort level with the potential risks presented by the cumulative impacts of multiple offshore LNG facilities that use the open rack vaporizer system," Blanco wrote in her letter.

Others may follow suit

Blanco's move could be repeated by governors of Mississippi and Alabama, who also are allowed to comment on the LNG port because it is near their coasts. Both have said they also oppose the LNG terminals using open loop systems. "This is an incredibly important step," said Aaron Viles, campaign director with the Gulf Restoration Network, a group that has fought open loop LNG terminals. "We're proud of the governor for standing up for fisheries."

POSTER'S COMMENTS: The Gulf Restoration Network is a regionalized environmental group of the Gulf States, which probably suggest that they may also support the UN Earth Charter initiative. Anyway, we all know that Gov. Blanco is not a governor of substance, so she is probably kinned or knows someone who is a member. They believe that opening the LNG facilities will drasticly change the temperature in the Gulf and destroy fish eggs and larva by the billions.
Seven of the 22 facilities are seeking permits:
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