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House Deals Another Blow to Weaver's Cove LNG

The House last Wednesday passed legislation (HR 415) that calls for the Taunton River in southeast Massachusetts to be designated as a Wild and Scenic Rivers system, putting another roadblock in the path of the embattled Weaver's Cove Energy liquefied natural gas (LNG) project.

The measure was voted out of the House by 242-175, over the objections of Republican lawmakers who argued that the bill was a backdoor attempt by Democrats to block the LNG terminal. But Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), chief sponsor of the bill, countered that his effort to have the Taunton River included in the Wild and Scenic system predated the LNG project.

This latest setback comes only weeks after the secretary of the Department of Commerce upheld Massachusetts' objection to the Weaver's Cove LNG project (see NGI, June 30).

Weaver's Cove originally proposed, and FERC approved in 2005, the construction of an LNG terminal in Fall River, MA. But due to continuing concerns expressed by the community and the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as the denial of a dredging permit by Massachusetts, Weaver's Cove in April asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to amend its certificate to allow it to construct an offshore LNG unloading berth in Mount Hope Bay and an underwater pipeline to transport the LNG to the proposed terminal site at Fall River (see NGI, April 7). It has submitted the revised project for the Commission's pre-filing process.

In a letter in June to FERC Chairman Joseph Kelliher, Frank said the Weaver's Cove revised project also would require "extensive damaging dredging" of the Taunton River," which would be barred if the Senate follows suit and votes to include the Taunton River in the Wild and Scenic Rivers system.

"The Department of Interior has already determined that dredging associated with the proposed LNG facility is inconsistent with the Wild and Scenic designation and that the proposed dredging will not be permitted. A number of leading maritime authorities, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, have consistently raised concerns about the scope and extent of dredging associated with this project and placing a pipeline on the river bed further exacerbates the harmful impacts of this project," Frank told Kelliher.

The bill was cosponsored by the entire Massachusetts and Rhode Island delegations in the House. Companion legislation introduced by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and John Kerry (D-MA) was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June.

In October 2007 the Coast Guard concluded that the Taunton River was "unsuitable from a navigation safety perspective for the type, size and frequency of LNG marine traffic associated with [the Weaver's Cove] proposal" (see NGI, Oct. 29, 2007). In March the project suffered another blow when the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection denied a request by Weaver's Cove Energy to dredge the Taunton River to a depth to accommodate LNG tankers. These setbacks prompted Weaver's Cove to go back to the drawing board and revise its project.

The Weaver's Cove project has been the target of fierce opposition by local, state and federal officials, who are adamantly against building LNG infrastructure in their backyard, although they admit that more natural gas supply is needed for the region (see NGI, May 16, 2005). If built, the proposed terminal would provide 800 MMcf/d of peak sendout capacity, 400 MMcf/d of baseload supply and 200,000 metric tons of LNG storage.

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