2009 May 22
A draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on May 15 for the Downeast LNG project in Robbinston, finds that the construction and operation of the project would result in some adverse environmental impacts. However, with implementation of the applicant's proposed mitigation measures and additional measures recommended by staff, "those impacts would be reduced to lessthansignificant levels," the draft EIS states.
FERC staff will host a public comment meeting on the draft EIS on Tuesday, June 16, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Robbinston Grade School. Comments also may be submitted to FERC by no later than July 6.
Dean Girdis, president of Downeast LNG, says in a press release that the draft EIS means that the project has taken a major step forward in the regulatory approval process. "As expected, there are some conditions that we need to address, but nothing that is insurmountable or unreasonable as we continue to move forward through the approval process," he stated. According to Girdis, the release of the draft EIS also means that Downeast LNG likely will move ahead soon with its state permit applications, which were withdrawn in 2007.
The New Brunswick government states that it will comprehensively review and assess the document and take appropriate action as a formal intervener in the FERC proceeding. In a release, Premier Shawn Graham says, "FERC has jurisdiction over the development of this project on United States soil and in United States waters. We note that FERC staff has recommended nearly 100 very serious conditions be imposed on the project in the event this project were ever to move forward. We also note in this report mention of resources or effects on the Canadian side of the border, which are clearly beyond the authority or jurisdiction of FERC. For example, references to the application of the New Brunswick Endangered Species Act, or any other Canadian or provincial law, are misplaced."
The premier adds, "We will ensure that New Brunswick's safety and security concerns, as well as the environmental and economic impacts of these facilities on New Brunswick residents who live along Passamaquoddy Bay, are not dismissed and are forcefully defended. We are involved in the FERC process for this exact reason. The decision on LNG vessels transiting Head Harbour Passage and matters pertaining to Canadian territorial waters is the exclusive jurisdiction of the Government of Canada and is outside the FERC process."
Save Passamaquoddy Bay coordinator Linda Cross Godfrey of Eastport says, "We at Save Passamaquoddy Bay 3Nation Alliance know that this 'draft' environmental impact statement is based primarily on information provided by the applicant. It lacks input from area residents, local groups, affected individuals and businesses, which is why FERC has released it as a draft. It is preliminary and incomplete, and requires reading the entire 1,482 pages to fully realize the impacts of the proposed project conveyed in the document."
Among the issues identified in the FERC analysis are potential impacts on water bodies and wetlands; sensitive wildlife habitats and fisheries, listed endangered and threatened species; residences; visual resources; cultural resources; commercial and recreational marine vessel activity; and safety. Godfrey comments, "These effects on local residents and resources should be a powerful eyeopener for residents as well as state officials."
Among the environmental mitigation measures that the FERC report recommends are: a compensation plan for loss of wetlands; a shorebird mitigation plan; mitigation methods for the right whale and marine mammals, including limiting LNG vessel speed and use of forward-watching whale spotters; visual impact mitigation by painting storage tanks a neutral color and having vegetative and tree buffers and using equipment to reduce light spillage. Other recommendations include filing a fisherman compensation plan; continuing consultations with the Passamaquoddy Tribe on impacts on cultural and religious interests; revising the company's modeling on thermal radiation distances and flammable gas dispersion distances; revising its plans for pipeline construction that would minimize impacts on 18 residences within 50 feet of the right-of-way; developing a cost-sharing plan for security/emergency management costs that would be imposed on state and local agencies; and complying with risk mitigation measures in the Waterway Suitability Report.
In January, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a favorable Waterway Suitability Report for the project, which is included in the draft EIS. In a letter to FERC, the Captain of the Port for the U.S. Coast Guard's Sector Northern New England said that he had "determined that the Passamaquoddy Bay waterway is suitable for the type and frequency of marine traffic associated with this proposed project, provided that all of the recommended risk mitigation measures are fully implemented by the applicant."
FERC staff are scheduled to complete a final EIS in September 2009, and the Downeast LNG project would then be considered by the members of FERC. They will decide if the project should be: approved, incorporating FERC staff's recommendations; set for evidentiary hearings before a FERC administrative law judge to explore a specific material issue of fact; or rejected. The date for the full commission's consideration of and decision on the Downeast LNG project will be announced later. According to Girdis, the "90day Federal Authorization Decision Deadline," essentially consideration of final approval for the project, would be December 17.
The Downeast LNG terminal would be capable of storing up to 320,000 cubic meters of LNG in specially designed tanks and would provide an average 500 million cubic feet of gas per day to the New England region's interstate pipeline grid. Downeast Pipeline's proposed 29.8-mile, 30inchdiameter pipeline would extend from Downeast's terminal to the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline near Baileyville. The project would include the transit of LNG vessels through both U.S. and Canadian waters to and from the Robbinstonbased terminal. The draft EIS also includes information regarding the potential expansions of the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline to transport the natural gas that would be supplied by Downeast Pipeline.
© 2009 The Quoddy Tides
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.