Federal and city authorities last Tuesday officially launched the full environmental impact review (EIR) of Australia-based Woodside Natural Gas' proposed offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) docking facility and undersea pipeline 28 miles from an onshore connection point near Los Angeles International Airport. The U.S. Coast Guard and City of Los Angeles jointly deemed as "complete" the application for OceanWay, triggering the EIR.

A date and time for an environmental scoping hearing will be announced jointly by the Coast Guard and city in the next 30 days, Woodside said. The latest action starts what Woodside called "a comprehensive public review and approval process" in which the Coast Guard serves as the lead agency under the National Environmental Policy Act, and Los Angeles acts as the lead agency under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Woodside President Steve Larson, a former executive director at the California Public Utilities Commission, said OceanWay is one step closer to the day it delivers regasified LNG from shipboard facilities offshore through the underwater gas transmission pipeline that would be connected with Southern California Gas Co.'s (SoCalGas) backbone transmission pipeline system. Promising to "safely" deliver the added future gas supplies the state needs, Larson called Tuesday's announcement "great news for OceanWay and California consumers."

OceanWay is touting its proposed LNG delivery system off the Southern California coast as a "safe and secure solution, delivering much-needed natural gas for consumers while minimizing its environmental footprint" and proposing a ship-buoy system -- rather than a fixed or moored terminal -- unloading gaseous supplies from the ship to the submerged buoy-connected undersea pipeline.

However, even though the Coast Guard and the city are the lead agencies on the time-consuming, closely scrutinized environmental work, two other state agencies -- the California Coastal Commission and California Lands Commission -- that earlier this year shot down an offshore LNG project by another giant Australian resources company, BHP Billiton, also will weigh in on Woodside's project.

Recently, the chair of the three-member Lands Commission, California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, made it clear he doesn't think California needs an LNG terminal, given the Sempra Energy Costa Azul facility opening early next year along the Pacific Coast of North Baja California, about 60 miles south of the U.S-Mexico border (see related story). The LNG facility taps into California through the North Baja Pipeline.

As its other LNG competitors have proposed both offshore and onshore, Woodside Natural Gas, which is a California-based unit of its $27 billion Australian parent company, has promised various environmental, economic, security and energy reliability advantages for its OceanWay project.

On July 30, Woodside unveiled plans to be the first LNG shipper committed to using U.S.-flagged tankers in its proposed project for bringing supplies ashore through an underwater pipeline.

Woodside and the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) jointly announced they reached an agreement on the flagging of the ships, which for the company will be regasification vessels that transport LNG shipments to a submerged pipeline hookup where it will be shipped in a gaseous state to an onshore connection with SoCalGas' transmission pipeline network.

Noting that the company had worked closely with MARAD on the flagging issue for its offshore OceanWay project, Woodside's Larson said the U.S. flagging is "consistent with [our] commitment to the highest level of safety and security for our project."

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