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Weaver's Cove LNG Plans Smaller Vessels to Get Around Legal Barrier

Sponsors of Weaver's Cove LNG say the tactic used last summer by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) to block construction of their import terminal was creative but won't prevent them from building the project on the Taunton River.

McGovern inserted seven lines of text into the Transportation Authorization Bill -- later signed into law by President Bush -- that blocked demolition of the Brightman Street Bridge over the river. If the bridge can't be taken down, Hess LNG and Poten & Partners, sponsors of Weaver's Cove, can't bring conventional LNG vessels up the river because they won't fit through the 98-foot wide openings in the old bridge.

But now the sponsors say they are planning to use much smaller vessels that would be able to make it up the river even with the old bridge standing. Instead of building ships that are 145 feet wide and carry 145,000 cubic meters of LNG, the smaller ships would be only 82 feet wide and would carry about 55,000 cubic meters of LNG.

In a letter filed with FERC Feb. 10, Weaver's Cove attorney Bruce F. Kiely told the Commission the "flexibility to utilize smaller ships is the result of efforts by others to leave in place the existing Brightman Street Bridge to preclude the use of regular size vessels." Kiely said if the bridge ends up being removed or altered, Weaver's Cove would revert to the 145-foot-wide conventional LNG vessels.

"While this represents a less than optimal outcome, it will permit the company to advance the project to bring a much needed source of natural gas supply to New England and help lower gas prices," said Weaver's Cove spokesman James Grasso.

McGovern blasted the new idea, saying it would increase the safety and security concerns that prompted him to introduce the legislation against the project in the first place. ''All of the concerns I initially had are made worse by plans for more ships making more trips," he told the Boston Globe. ''More ships means more safety risks for the people of the Greater Fall River area. It means more expenses for the Coast Guard in security. It means more air pollution and environmental harm. It means, frankly, more targets" for terrorists.

Some observers believe the sponsors are bluffing in an attempt to force politicians and regulators to go along with their original LNG plan rather than face a new proposal that would pose even greater safety and security risks. Fall River Mayor Ed Lambert said the new plan fundamentally changes the project and would require FERC to review the project application all over again. The City of Fall River and the attorneys general of Massachusetts and Rhode Island already are appealing FERC's approval of the import terminal.

Other opponents said they doubted the new plan would work because it would significantly increase the cost of the project. Weaver's Cove acknowledged that project costs would more than double because special ships would have to be built, the number of trips to the terminal would more than double, transportation costs would increase, and security costs would go up. But Grasso said the sponsors are willing to pay extra "to bring more affordable natural gas to New England."

He also said there are older ships in the existing worldwide LNG fleet that are small enough and could be purchased for the project. However, he could not say where those ships are being used today.

"While the costs will be higher, the elevated transportation and other costs will not prevent the project from moving forward," he said. This is "a good solution to the barrier put in place by Congressmen McGovern."

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