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Interior Takes Aim at FERC's Draft Environmental Assessment of Golden Pass LNG

The Department of Interior has said that FERC, in its draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on ExxonMobil Corp.'s proposed 2 Bcf/d Golden Pass liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal and associated gas pipeline along the Gulf Coast, failed to adequately assess the project's impact on endangered species and wetlands.

The department "is concerned with the amount of significant impacts to fish and wildlife habitat caused by the construction of this [LNG] facility and pipeline. The draft EIS states the majority of impacts will be temporary; however, we believe that the most significant impacts will be permanent, e.g., those to forested wetlands and coastal emergent wetlands," Interior's Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance wrote in an April 7 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [CP04-386]. FERC issued its DEIS on the Golden Pass project last month (see Daily GPI, March 7).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) currently is working with Golden Pass LNG to evaluate the extent of the permanent losses that may occur at the site and to develop an appropriate compensation plan, it noted. "We believe this information should be included in the final environmental impact statement" on the proposed LNG facility-pipeline.

"The area proposed for the pipeline route is within forested areas documented to be heavily used by large numbers of neotropical migrants each year. The continued loss and degradation of these coastal forests -- by urbanization, oil and gas activities and pollution -- pose a risk to these migrating birds...[Interior] considers forested areas to be highly valuable as fish and wildlife habitat and believes the limited proposed mitigation will not adequately compensate for the loss of this habitat," the department told FERC.

Moreover, Golden Pass has been unable to obtain landowner permission to access areas along the proposed pipeline route that contain nesting habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker. "Alternative survey methods are currently being discussed for those areas where access has been denied. Please be aware that all Section 7 consultation [under the Endangered Species Act] should be completed prior to the issuance of the final EIS," the agency advised the Commission.

The proposed LNG import terminal and interconnecting pipeline facilities would be located near Sabine Pass, TX, 10 miles south of Port Arthur. The project is targeted for in-service in late 2008. The proposed marine terminal would be connected to the Port Arthur Channel, and would include a ship maneuvering area, two protected berths and unloading facilities capable of accommodating up to 200 LNG tankers each year.

Other facilities would include five storage tanks, with a total working volume of approximately 975,000 barrels; and a pipeline system comprised of 77.8 miles of 36-inch diameter pipeline, 42.8 miles of 36-inch diameter loop, and 1.8 miles of 24-inch diameter lateral.

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