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FERC Says 'No' to Reopening Weaver's Cove Case; Capitol Hill Reacts

FERC last Monday rejected requests by New England parties to reopen the case of the proposed Weaver's Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal to be located in Fall River, MA, saying the parties failed to demonstrate that the company's new plan to use smaller tankers to navigate the Taunton River amounted to "extraordinary circumstances."

The decision touched a nerve with some members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, who called on the U.S. Coast Guard to block the LNG project that is the target of heated opposition at the state and local levels. FERC's decision leaves the Coast Guard review as the last major federal regulatory hurdle facing the Weaver's Cove terminal. A Louisiana congressman suggested last week that Weaver's Cove leave the bickering behind and relocate the project to his energy-friendly state.

In March, the city of Fall River, the Conservation Law Foundation, Save the Bay and a private citizen, Michael L. Miozza, filed motions at FERC seeking to reopen the proceeding on the controversial Weaver's Cove LNG project, which FERC approved in July 2005 (see NGI, July 4, 2005). They argued that Weaver's Cove LNG's plan to use smaller tankers to clear the existing Brightman Street Bridge and make deliveries to the proposed terminal fundamentally altered the project, and required FERC to reopen the record to conduct further environmental analysis and public interest review.

But FERC disagreed. "In determining whether there is good cause to reopen the record...the Commission considers whether or not the party requesting reopening has demonstrated the existence of extraordinary circumstances that outweigh the need for finality in the administrative process. To persuade the Commission...the party must demonstrate a change in circumstances that is more than just material -- the change must go to the very heart of the case. We find that movants have not met that burden and will deny their request to reopen," the order said [CP04-38-002].

The ruling was a victory for the Weaver's Cove LNG project. However, it still faces review by the Coast Guard and the federal courts, as well as has to scale hurdles at the state and local levels.

"Issues related to the navigability and safety of LNG vessels on the Taunton River and other pertinent waterways are properly before the agency with appropriate jurisdiction to address them -- the Coast Guard. No changes to our authorization or additional analysis are required with respect to the other matters raised by movants," the FERC order said.

"We note, however, that if the Coast Guard's review of this matter results in changes to the project that require a change to our authorization, we would determine at that time what additional review we might be required to undertake in connection with such changes...Finally, because we are denying the motions to reopen the record, we likewise will deny Fall River's motion to stay the Commission's orders" approving the Weaver's Cove project and denying rehearing of that decision. Following FERC's refusal in January to rehear the case, Fall River and Miozza sought judicial review of the agency's orders.

Weaver's Cove LNG sponsors, Hess LNG and Poten & Partners, were forced to reduce the size of the LNG tankers following enactment of a federal transportation law in 2005 that blocked demolition of the Brightman Street Bridge over the Taunton River (see NGI, Aug. 15, 2005). Leaving the bridge in place effectively prevents the LNG project from using traditional-size LNG tankers, which can't fit through the bridge's opening.

As a result, the Weaver's Cove LNG sponsors announced plans in February to use smaller LNG tankers that would make more frequent trips up the Taunton River to the proposed terminal site (see NGI, Feb. 20).

In a related development, four members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation sent a letter to the Coast Guard last Wednesday expressing their opposition to the controversial Weaver's Cove LNG project. "As you know, we strongly oppose this project," wrote Democrat Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry and Reps. Barney Frank and James McGovern in their letter to Coast Guard Admiral Thomas Collins in Washington, DC. "It would pose an unacceptable risk as a terrorist target in the densely populated city of Fall River."

Since a meeting with Coast Guard officials is out of the question due to the pending nature of the project, "we ask at least for assurance that the Coast Guard will be mindful of the safety and security of our constituents during the project application review period," the four lawmakers noted. "We believe that if the Coast Guard considers [the] risk factors in light of the population density of Fall River, it will inevitably reach the conclusion that no mitigating factors are reasonably sufficient to allow the project to go forward."

If Massachusetts is so dead set against siting the proposed Weaver's Cove LNG terminal in its state, Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr. (R-LA) last Wednesday said Louisiana would welcome it with open arms. "I urge you to consider locating a facility in the region that welcomes and understands this critical energy supply," the Louisiana lawmaker said in a letter to Gordon Shearer, CEO of Weaver's Cove Energy.

"Three [LNG] plants are either operational or under construction in Cameron Parish, with at least another five proposed in the area. Terminals have access to 20 natural gas pipelines as well as the nearby Henry Hub. Interconnections to other pipelines allow access to the complete U.S. pipeline grid, including New England and the Midwest," he noted.

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