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Long Beach Port Releases Draft EIR on LNG Terminal, Sets 4 Public Hearings

The Port of Long Beach's Harbor commissioners last Monday night agreed to release a joint draft environmental impact report (EIR) on the proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal in the harbor and established four public hearings on the document between Nov. 14 and Dec. 1 Comments are due to the port or the document's joint author, FERC staff, by Dec. 8.

Calling it unprecedented, harbor officials extended the normal 45-day EIR public comment period to 60 days, encouraging written comments from local residents and stakeholders. Any comments or questions submitted must be responded to by the joint authors and/or the applicant, Sound Energy Solutions (SES), a joint venture between Mitsubishi Corp. and ConocoPhillips.

Long Beach harbor officials said they were jointly circulating the 700-page draft EIR, including a 17-page table of contents, and environmental impact statement (EIS), with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The draft EIR/EIS are available via the Internet at the Port of Long Beach website (www.polb.com) and FERC's website (www.ferc.gov). In addition, hard copies are available for review at Long Beach City Hall and other local public buildings.

While harbor commissioners' stressed that "construction cannot begin without the approval of local, state and federal authorities, and only after a thorough review of environmental issues," FERC staff noted last Friday that it was recommending conditional approval of the proposed LNG receiving site. Separately the California Public Utilities Commission already has decided to oppose the site, and has asked for evidentiary hearings on expert safety testimony that was submitted to FERC last week.

The environmental staffs of FERC and the port prepared the draft documents, assessing the environmental impacts from the projected construction and operation of the receiving terminal. It was more than two years ago -- June 30, 2003 -- when SES filed a request with FERC to implement the commission's pre-filing process.

The voluminous environmental document includes 10 sections, ranging from geology to noise, but the focal part of the document likely to stir the most comments locally is the "Reliability and Safety" section in which both the terminal and the related LNG vessel transit are evaluated. While the joint draft report analyzed various thermal radiation and flammable vapor hazardous distances that were calculated beyond the proposed terminal property lines, and the alternative of no siting was also assessed, the agency staffs at the port and FERC ultimately concluded "SES' proposed project is the environmentally preferable/superior alternative that can meet project objectives."

The draft report concluded that "denying SES's application would force potential natural gas customers to seek regulatory approval to use other forms of energy." It recognizes the push by California regulators to have utilities seek renewable energy programs and various demand-side management options, but the draft EIR concludes that renewables can help replace other fuel sources for electricity; "they cannot at this time reliably replace the need for natural gas or provide sufficient energy to keep pace with demand."

While it is recommending the actionable local and federal agencies go with SES' proposed terminal, the EIR noted that FERC's technical analysis of SES's plans identified "a number of concerns" related to the proposed project's reliability, operability, and safety. Under that section of the report for reliability/safety issues, the draft document lists 32 mitigation measures and/or design, process, and equipment modifications that SES and its partner, ConocoPhillips, must address before a final EIR can be approved.

Hearings will be Nov. 14, 15, 30 and Dec. 1, with the initial one in the Long Beach City Council chambers. Written comments are due Dec. 8.

In addition to FERC and the port, three federal agencies have roles in the siting process: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as applies to the federal Clean Water Act; the U.S. Coast Guard regarding homeland security issues; and the federal Department of Transportation's pipeline/hazardous materials safety administration (PHMSA).

The LNG terminal will include the following: vaporization facilities capable of sending out 750 MMcf/d of gas; two LNG storage tanks, each with a gross volume of 160,000 cubic meters (l,006,000 barrels); a 2.3-mile, 36-inch-diameter pipeline and associated aboveground facilities; and a 4.6-mile, 10-inch-diameter pipeline and associated aboveground facilities to transport vaporized C-2 from the LNG terminal to existing ConocoPhillips local processing facilities.

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