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NOAA's Best-Practices Plan Cites Drawbacks of Open-Loop LNG Vaporization

An industry-touted method for revaporizing liquefied natural gas (LNG) aboard floating terminal facilities "substantially increases the degree of impact on the marine environment," particularly fish larvae and eggs, said federal marine officials in a draft "best practices" report, which was offered as guidance to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in analyzing LNG terminal applications.

The report, which was developed by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), called on NOAA staff to recommend the use of the closed-loop system for converting LNG to natural gas as opposed to the open-loop revaporization system, which it noted draws in large quantities of warm ocean water (approximately 100 to more than 200 million gallons per day) from the Gulf to heat LNG and then discharges the cooled water back into the environment.

"The intake of large quantities of seawater could result in significant impacts on a large number of marine organisms (including fish eggs and larvae, some of commercial importance)... NOAA is particularly concerned that the use of open-loop systems will result in the loss of significant numbers of fish... Some fish species that could be affected are already at low population levels and any additional impact could prevent or unnecessarily delay rebuilding or recovery of their populations," the report noted.

"Although the operational design of proposed LNG terminal projects is often determined before applicants seek input from NOAA on project impacts, NOAA staff should recommend during the pre-application phase or early in the review process the use of a closed-loop regasification system. NOAA has determined the use of closed-loop systems to be the best-available technology and a best practice for avoiding or minimizing impacts on the marine and coastal development."

In the event that a closed-loop regasification system is not favored by a company, as is the case with most developers with locations in the Gulf of Mexico, "other methods of regasifying LNG that are proposed for consideration should provide protection to the marine environment that is equal to that of the closed-loop system," the report said.

"Particularly for onshore and near-shore terminals, NOAA recommends employing closed-loop systems designed to use waste heat from existing power plants or other industrial facilities. These systems, by using waste heat from nearby facilities, do not require the combustion of additional hydrocarbons to gasify LNG, thereby reducing potential air pollution impacts."

The conclusions in the NMFS draft "best-practices" document were at odds with the findings of a report, issued in mid-January, that was commissioned by the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas. That report found that the actual impact of the open-loop system on marine life in the Gulf would be substantially less than originally identified in environmental impact statements (EIS), which were developed by the U.S. Coast Guard.

"Our findings indicate that the actual impacts of offshore LNG development, and in particular the use of [open-loop] systems, on fish populations is expected to be substantially less than the minimal impacts already predicted in the EIS," said Paul Boehm of environmental services consulting firm Exponent, which carried out the independent review for the Center for LNG.

NOAA assists the lead agencies that have permitting authority over LNG facilities, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Maritime Administration and the Coast Guard. Its responsibility is to offer comments and recommendations to minimize the adverse environmental impacts of offshore LNG facilities on marine resources.

NOAA is seeking public comment on its draft recommended best practices for LNG terminals by April 5.

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