Knappa LNG Meeting Heats Up
by Cassandra Profita
The Daily Astorian, March 4, 2010
Opponents come out in force at KHS to voice opinions
DEQ session highlights four permits
KNAPPA - Liquefied natural gas opponents were out in force Wednesday for a public information meeting on the Bradwood Landing liquefied natural gas project's air and water quality permit applications.
Around 200 people packed into the Knappa High School gymnasium along with a panel of state officials poised to answer questions and take public comments.
The session was organized by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in response to four permit applications the agency has received from Bradwood project developer NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc. of Houston.
Proposed for a site on the Columbia River about 25 miles east of Astoria, the $650 million Bradwood Landing LNG facility would import supercooled natural gas liquid from up to 125 tankers per year. It would store the LNG in two cylindrical tanks on the property and burn natural gas to reheat the liquid to a vapor for pipeline distribution. A 36-mile pipeline is proposed to run east from the terminal to Port Westward, cross under the Columbia River and across Washington's Cowlitz County to meet an interstate gas pipeline near Kelso, Wash.
To make way for the delivery tankers at the dock, the company would need to dredge a 45-acre turning basin in the Columbia River and do maintenance dredging at the site every four years. Project backers have been working for five years to obtain the permits for the development. Federal energy regulators granted NorthernStar a conditional license in 2008, but the company still needs many approvals from the state of Oregon, including those from DEQ, before construction can begin.
On Wednesday, there were Bradwood supporters in the crowd sporting their signature blue T-shirts, but opponents in blazing red "no LNG" shirts arrived early and filled most of the front seats. A call for all opponents in the audience to stand up brought most in the room to their feet.
When DEQ's Northwest Region Administrator Nina DeConcini called on "the gentleman in the red there" during a question-and-answer session, she immediately corrected herself.
"That's probably not the best descriptor," she said.
The anti-LNG forces were charged by a letter DEQ Director Dick Pedersen sent to NorthernStar last month refusing several "demands" the company had made, including one for his agency to conditionally approve the Bradwood project's water-quality permit without requested information about the impacts of the project on Columbia River water quality and fish habitat. Pedersen said without the information, one of the company's DEQ permit applications will likely be denied.
"This project is on the ropes," said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director for the lead anti-LNG group Columbia Riverkeeper. "It was their decision to site this in the middle of one of the most important salmon habitats in North America, and that was a bad decision."
Gary Coppedge, senior vice president of development for NorthernStar, said his company didn't demand anything from DEQ but "requested a schedule" for when the state needed the additional information. Pedersen answered the request for the most part, Coppedge said, by setting a deadline of May 7 for the company to either submit three-dimensional modeling of the project's impact to the river or withdraw its permit application and resubmit it to restart the time clock.
Coppedge was allowed a 10-minute presentation in which he summarized his company's DEQ permit applications and explained that extensive mitigation projects as well as a roughly $50 million Salmon Enhancement Initiative were generously designed to offset the environmental impacts of the project and create "a model of sustainability."
"We're meeting all the requirements as state and federal agencies have outlined," he said.
There were at least 60 people who signed up to speak Wednesday, and the first half of them were all opposed to the project. Many praised DEQ for its approach to the permitting process and emphasized the importance of state regulators considering the way the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission conditionally approved the Bradwood project in 2008 without waiting for state approvals. The state of Oregon has appealed FERC's decision, arguing the approval was granted prematurely, and is awaiting a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Thank you DEQ for using science and not outside political pressure as the criteria for determining whether or not to issue permits," said Astoria resident Lori Durheim. "This is a project that would cancel out the tremendous efforts being made to save salmon from extinction."
But the opponents had some complaints for DEQ, too. One was an accusation that the state, as well as federal regulators, are ignoring the impacts of a connected project, the Palomar Gas Transmission pipeline. The Palomar project, a joint venture of Northwest Natural Gas Co. and TransCanada Corp. would add a second gas distribution line to the Bradwood facility that would run 120 miles south through Clatsop, Washington and Yamhill counties to connect with a Northwest Natural gas hub in Molalla. The environmental impacts of that project are not being considered as part of the Bradwood development.
A couple people asked whether the company would need to come back to DEQ for additional approvals if the Bradwood site ever changed from an LNG import facility to an LNG export facility.
"I don't know the answer to that question," said DeConcini, "but we could certainly research it."
NorthernStar has submitted four applications to DEQ seeking permission to emit air and water pollutants and certification that their project as a whole complies with federal and state Clean Water Act rules.
To approve its part of a 401 Water Quality Certification, required under the Clean Water Act, DEQ will determine whether the Bradwood project as a whole - including billions of gallons of ballast water intakes, engine cooling water discharges, dredging and pipeline water body crossings, among other actions - meets state water quality standards.
The company has asked DEQ for a permit to emit air pollutants including nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. DEQ air quality engineer George Davis told the crowd Wednesday that the emissions would come mostly from burning natural gas in the vaporization process, and that natural gas is a relatively clean-burning fuel.
When asked if the burning of sulfur dioxide would be "stinky," Davis said, "in this case, it's coming from the combustion of natural gas, which contains a very small amount. ... Sulfur dioxide stinks, but here it will not smell bad."
The project's wastewater and stormwater discharges will require a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from DEQ. Wastewater would be generated by fire suppression system testing, construction and gas vaporizors. Water discharged from the facility after the vaporization process cannot bring the river temperature above 68 degrees Fahrenheit under state rules.
Most of the company's DEQ permits are still being held up by project opponents' challenge to Clatsop County's land-use approval, a required component of state permit approval. The Land Use Board of Appeals is holding a hearing today on the case, which hinges on the project's size and its impacts to salmon habitat.
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