Federal and local government authorities responsible for making a joint environmental assessment held the first public comment session last Wednesday night on Australia-based Woodside Natural Gas's proposed 1 Bcf liquefied natural gas (LNG) importation project off the Southern California coast near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). About 150 citizens and local government representatives attended at a hotel near LAX.

About 40 people made statements, most opposing the proposed project that bids to bring in some of Woodside's growing gas supplies from the Northwest Shelf of Australia without constructing a permanent receiving terminal. Instead, Woodside proposes to use ships equipped to regasify the LNG on board and put the gaseous fuel in a meandering 35-mile undersea natural gas pipeline that the ships would connect with at a submerged buoy.

CEO for Woodside's California projects, Steve Larson, made opening remarks welcoming the public dialogue, saying this was just the beginning -- not the end. Larson said Woodside continues to reach out to the local communities, seeking local citizen understanding of what he considers a good deal from both energy supply and environmental standpoints.

Federal and city authorities early in September officially launched the full environmental impact review (EIR) of Woodside's offshore LNG docking facility and undersea pipeline. At that time, the U.S. Coast Guard and City of Los Angeles jointly deemed as "complete" the application for OceanWay, triggering the EIR. The federal Maritime Administration (MARAD) joined the two other entities Wednesday.

The OceanWay project calls for two submerged regasification hookup buoys about 28 miles offshore (35 miles on the nondirect route) out in the Pacific from the onshore interconnection site near LAX. Woodside is touting its proposal as more "environmentally sensitive, safe and secure," given rejection earlier this year of two more advanced LNG proposals -- one offshore by BHP Billiton, and the other in Long Beach Harbor by a joint venture of Mitsubishi and ConocoPhillips.

At Wednesday's session, local elected officials from Malibu and Los Angeles voiced opposition to the project as did Rep. Jane Harmon. State and local union leaders all expressed support for the project for its economic and longer-term job-enhancing aspects.

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