LNG Backers say Controversial Terminal
by Ted Sickinger
Houston-based NorthernStar delivers its environmental study to federal regulators
Backers of a controversial plan to build an import terminal for liquefied natural gas on the lower Columbia River claim their project would actually boost salmon survival rates while helping the region meet growing energy demands.
Houston-based NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc. has proposed building a $700 million terminal at Bradwood Landing to offload tankers of supercooled natural gas, rewarm the condensed liquid and ship the resulting gas to market via pipeline. The company delivered a 3,700-page biological assessment of the project to federal regulators on Wednesday.
The environmental analysis is part of a multifront push by NorthernStar to win regulatory approval for the project. The company is also trying to make the case that the terminal and associated pipelines would deliver an economic benefit to gas users. Proponents contend that imported gas will be a crucial piece of the region's future energy supply.
A study released last month by the Oregon Department of Energy, on the other hand, concluded that the state could meet its needs more economically and with less pollution by importing more domestic gas from Wyoming.
A NorthernStar spokesman, Joe Desmond, said the company spent three years and $6 million to produce its biological assessment of the project, which includes field studies, analyses of scientific literature and modeling of the terminal site, about 30 miles upriver from Astoria.
The company doesn't assume the terminal would be environmentally harmless. But it has proposed a number of offsetting measures on- and off-site, including a voluntary $59 million initiative to improve salmon habitat in the estuary. It assumes that federal agencies would match that spending at least 3-to-1, with the net result that an extra 1.77 million juvenile salmon would reach ocean waters each year.
NorthernStar has long made the case that its project would be "good for salmon" and "good for the Columbia," a notion scoffed at by environmental and tribal groups. Opponents believe there is no way to compensate for the impact of dredging, the ongoing use of vast quantities of river water for tanker ballast and terminal operations, and the increased traffic of large ships on the Columbia.
That is the crux of the debate that will play out in coming months. NorthernStar's new data will be closely scrutinized by opponents, as well as by federal fisheries and wildlife agencies charged with determining whether the terminal's impact on endangered species can be adequately mitigated. Those agencies probably will render a final biological opinion this fall.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has overall licensing authority for the project, is expected to deliver a broader environmental analysis of the terminal's impact in coming days, possibly as soon as Friday. That analysis, coupled with the biological opinion, will provide the basis for a licensing decision by the agency's three commissioners later this year. The project is also subject to state permitting under clean air, clean water and coastal zone management acts.
NorthernStar's study will be posted in FERC's electronic library -- available by searching under the keywords "Bradwood Landing" at elibrary.ferc.gov
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