Maryland officials oppose plan for Baltimore LNG terminal

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 24 -- Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, members of the state's congressional delegation, and county and local officials expressed strong opposition on Apr. 23 to AES Corp.'s plan to build an LNG terminal and regasification plant at the mouth of Baltimore's harbor.

US Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) told a House subcommittee field hearing in Baltimore that the proposed installation's Sparrows Point location raises security and evacuation questions as serious as those emerging since the LNG terminal at Cove Point farther down Chesapeake Bay reopened.

"One month after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] approved Cove Point's application," she said. "Now, 5 years later, the Coast Guard has said it will no longer provide waterside security at Cove Point. They're essentially turning it over to the LNG company and the county," she said.

O'Malley noted that while the Cove Point terminal is in a relatively remote area, Sparrows Point is in an area that would be difficult to evacuate in an emergency. There also might be impacts during normal operations, he suggested.

"One would think that if you need a 1,500-ft security ring around an LNG tanker, it would raise concerns about possibly having to close the [Chesapeake Bay] bridge when a shipment came through. That would have an impact on being able to reach Ocean City and other parts of Maryland's Atlantic coast and the eastern shore" of Chesapeake Bay, the governor said.

Other Maryland congressional and local government officials expressed concerns during the hearing called by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee.

Put WSA on hold
Local governments should be included in these processes, said Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who recommended that the Waterway Suitability Assessment for the proposed LNG import facility be put on hold until the US Coast Guard identifies local government's concerns.

But Richard R. Hoffmann, FERC's gas, environment, and engineering director, said FERC staff members have already visited terminal and pipeline sites, met with public officials, and gathered other information for the draft environmental impact statement being prepared for the Sparrows Point LNG proposal. "It's essential that state and local officials be involved in the preauthorization, preconstruction and preoperation," he said.

In written testimony, Hoffmann said Maryland's Department of Natural Resources expressed several concerns Feb. 7 as part of the state advisory report required under the 2005 Energy Policy Act for new LNG import projects.

"Right now, the primary issues are safety and security, impacts on boating and recreational activity, dredging concerns, environmental justice, concerns along the pipeline route, and its proximity to people and businesses. We'll look at all that and thoroughly examine every issue that's brought before us before we issue our draft EIS," he said at the hearing.

He said FERC has denied only one LNG terminal application so far, but other proposed projects have been withdrawn as questions emerged. The commission, he said, has an open process and takes all of these concerns into account. "Our work with the Coast Guard, with the Environmental Protection Agency, and with other government agencies tries to facilitate this," Hoffmann said.

Layers of enforcement
Rear Adm. Brian Salerno, the Coast Guard's inspection and compliance director, cited modern LNG vessels' safety record and advanced engineering specifications, saying security "requires layers of procedures and enforcement."

Capt. Brian D. Kelley, who directs the Coast Guard's Baltimore sectors covering Chesapeake Bay from its mouth to the Delaware state line and the Potomac River to Washington, said he currently is reviewing the risk assessment submitted by AES, an Arlington, Va., global gas and power project developer.

Aaron Samson, LNG projects director at AES, said the introduction of additional LNG traffic in Chesapeake Bay would have little impact on existing large vessel traffic, which already includes petroleum and ethanol tankers.

"[Incoming] LNG shipping in the Chesapeake may cause minor inconvenience to other vessels while they are under way. But they would occur only for about 3-4 minutes in the immediate area and only two or three times a week," he said.

Sparrows Point is one of three LNG import projects AES has proposed along the US East Coast. A second in the Bahamas would use an undersea pipeline to ship revaporized gas to Florida markets, while a third would be on one of Boston Harbor's outer islands. AES has operated an LNG import terminal in the Dominican Republic since 2003 and continues to run 30 power plants overseas safely, Samson said.

"Big energy infrastructure affecting people's land and rights are emotional issues. LNG is not well understood because our country hasn't had to import much of its natural gas supplies from overseas until now. We were in the community 6 months before we filed our first application papers at FERC for our Sparrows Point project," he observed.

But US Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger (D-Md.), whose district includes two communities near the proposed LNG facility's site, said the project would hurt revitalization projects and harm area neighborhoods.

"To reach this location, tankers would have to travel up the Chesapeake Bay past Cove Point, past the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant, beneath the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, where traffic now averages 95,000 vehicles during each summertime Saturday, and to a densely populated area," he said.

"We have to recognize that the world environment we live in is dangerous. Terrorists not only want to hurt us, but they want to do so in a spectacular fashion. We're moving quickly to address our energy needs. But I fear that in our haste, we're not addressing safety considerations," Ruppersberger maintained.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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