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FERC says LNG is 'Acceptable'

by Cassandra Profita
The Daily Astorian, June 9, 2008

Final Environmental Impact Statement brings NorthernStar closer to obtaining a license

In their final environmental report on the Bradwood Landing liquefied natural gas project, federal energy regulators have concluded the development would be "an environmentally acceptable action" - if it's done right.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement, released Friday, brings project developer NorthernStar Natural Gas Co. a lot closer to obtaining a federal license for the controversial LNG terminal proposed for a site 20 miles east of Astoria on the Columbia River.

The FEIS is a comprehensive assessment of all environmental drawbacks to the project and potential alternatives, and it is the last document needed before the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can make a licensing decision. The timetable for that decision is not known.

The analysis concluded the Bradwood project would have "mostly limited adverse environmental impacts" if the company completes its proposed mitigation, along with 110 additional protective measures.

NorthernStar executives boast their project is the only proposed terminal out of nearly a dozen on the West Coast to have received an FEIS. Two other proposed terminals in Oregon - one in Warrenton and one in Coos Bay - are behind the Bradwood terminal in the federal approval process.

"FERC's acceptance of our comprehensive environmental commitment is a testament to the thoroughness with which we have approached the development of this project," said NorthernStar Natural Gas Chief Executive Officer William "Si" Garrett. "We have been sensitive to the concerns of local counties, the state of Oregon, and the public."

But Bradwood project opponents argue the report issued Friday is deeply flawed and plan to challenge the document in court.

A court ruling against FEIS would derail the licensing decision.

Last month, Gov. Ted Kulongoski and U.S. Rep. David Wu had asked FERC to redo Bradwood's Draft Environmental Impact Statement, citing an Oregon Department of Energy study that questioned the need for LNG in Oregon and changes to the project that hadn't been addressed, but FERC declined their requests.

Kulongoski has vowed to employ the state's legal powers to scrutinize the final report.

"It is really unbelievable to see FERC essentially dismiss the serious concerns raised not just by the public, but by virtually every state of Oregon agency that reviewed their initial analysis," said Brent Foster, executive director of the LNG opponent group Columbia Riverkeeper. "I don't think there's a court in the country that will uphold this (environmental impact statement)."

Regardless of FERC's ruling, LNG opponents want the state to withhold Bradwood's Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Coastal Zone Management Act permits, which are required in addition to the federal license before the company can begin construction.

"It's a sad day for the Lower Columbia River, but this project is not a done deal," said Ted Messing, a project opponent who lives in Brownsmead near the proposed terminal site. "The state still has some control. We're counting on the governor to deny the air and water permits and stop this destruction of one of the prime habitats for salmon in the world."

LNG terminals receive supercooled natural gas liquid from ships and reheat the gas to a vapor for pipeline distribution. Critics argue the dredging required to deepen the river for LNG deliveries at Bradwood would severely damage salmon habitat, and the ballast water intake process would kill threatened and endangered fish.

The company revoked its initial promise to retrofit LNG tankers with ballast water intake screens to minimize the impact to fish, saying there is no way to guarantee all the carriers delivering to Bradwood will comply.

In the FEIS, FERC asked the company to submit within 30 days either a plan for retrofitting LNG tankers or an alternative plan for screening the water.

Company executives said they intend to submit an alternative proposal for minimizing impacts to fish from river water intake. They also said the FEIS omits details on fish impacts that are included in the biological assessment the company submitted last week.

Foster argued there is no technically and economically feasible system that will adequately protect fish from being harmed in the ballast water intake process. He also criticized the FEIS for neglecting the analysis of some environmental impacts, including the stranding of fish from ship wakes and the greenhouse gas contributions.

The Bradwood project also faces local challenges to its safety plans and its pipeline route. The cities of Astoria and Warrenton have scolded the company for claiming its Emergency Response Plan is complete without consulting local agencies, and project opponents have submitted more than 1,200 signatures in support of a ballot measure that could force the company to reroute its pipeline.

If voters decide to overturn the Clatsop County Commission's decision to approve the Bradwood pipeline route, they will in effect invalidate the company's Land Use Compatibility Statement, a key local approval required before the state can issue its air, water and coastal zone permits.

Cassandra Profita
FERC says LNG is 'Acceptable'
The Daily Astorian, June 9, 2008

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