Bradwood LNG Crosses a Milestoneby Cassandra Profita
The Daily Astorian, January 6, 2010
Agencies wrestle over permit timetable
Bradwood Landing liquefied natural gas developers are celebrating the official start to a long-awaited review of their project's impact on endangered species.
But the two federal agencies leading the review apparently disagree on whether the company has submitted all the necessary information and on how quickly the assessment should be completed.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has agreed to move forward with the project's Endangered Species Act consultation - a key milestone in the federal LNG approval process - even though it doesn't have all the information requested.
Federal energy regulators have pressed the fisheries service to move forward with Bradwood's environmental review despite missing data and finish the job by March 8.
Company executives say with that timeline in place they would expect to clear the last of their regulatory hurdles by summertime and begin construction later this year.
However, Cathy Tortorici, division chief for National Marine Fisheries Service, says her agency isn't required to meet the March 8 deadline and will probably take more than the typical 135 days to complete the consultation because the project is so complex.
In September 2008, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission conditionally approved a license for the $650 million Bradwood Landing project, proposed 25 miles east of Astoria on the Columbia River. The state of Oregon, the LNG opposition group Columbia Riverkeeper and NMFS are on the same side of a lawsuit challenging FERC's approval, which they argue was made prematurely - before the company had obtained the required permits from state agencies and the fisheries service.
One of the conditions of FERC's approval was that before project construction can begin, LNG developer NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc. of Houston will need a biological opinion from NMFS confirming that the project will not jeopardize threatened or endangered species such as Columbia River salmon and steelhead.
The project's impact on salmon has long been a point of contention between project developers and LNG opponents.
Opponents say the Bradwood site is an invaluable salmon nursery and that developers cannot make up for the negative impacts of building an LNG terminal there. But the company says its mitigation plans are so robust they will actually create a net benefit for salmon in the river.
The biological opinion is designed to be the final word in that dispute, and NMFS has been collecting data on the issue for years.
But in November, the agency claimed it still didn't have all the information needed to initiate consultation. In fact, there were still more than 150 information gaps that needed to be filled in, NMFS reported in a 35-page letter to FERC.
Among other gaps, NMFS found there were holes in the company's analysis of salmon habitat and dredging at the Bradwood project site and in documentation of the company's mitigation plans.
The agency said NorthernStar used "an unusual technique" to determine the terminal's effect on species and habitat, and "somewhat mysteriously" drew conclusions about the environmental impacts.
In a letter sent last week, FERC natural gas division director Lauren O'Donnell responded by asking NMFS "to complete its analysis with the information available" within a 90-day statutory deadline.
O'Donnell said staff members of the two agencies met Dec. 7-8 to discuss the information NMFS requested and agreed to start the consultation. During those meetings, she said, FERC told NMFS that "the vast majority of the requested material" has already been submitted and that "certain other information cannot be reasonably developed or obtained" and will not be provided.
Bradwood submitted additional information Dec. 31 and again this week.
Chuck Deister, director of media relations for NorthernStar, said a lot of the information NMFS is requesting can be found within the thousands of pages of existing documents, and the rest is contained in the recent submittals or can be provided during the course of the consultation.
Tortorici said the consultation officially began when NMFS received O'Donnel's letter this week - not Dec. 8 - and her agency is still working on establishing a timeline for completing the biological opinion.
She said it's not unusual that FERC would ask her agency to move forward without some of the requested information and that the missing data is largely the result of the timeline FERC has set for the LNG approval process.
"They have a process they've laid out. They have a timing for when they feel these documents are appropriate to generate based on constructing these projects," she said. "We would have prefered to have that information earlier on."
Energy Regulators Up Timeline for Liquid Gas Terminal by Ted Sickinger, The Oregonian, 1/4/10
LNG Terminal Encounters a Fishy Problem by Staff, The Daily Astorian, 1/6/10
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