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Weaver's Cove Seeks OK to Build Offshore LNG Berth

Weaver's Cove Energy filed an amended application with FERC last week to revise its agency-approved liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal project by constructing a berth for tankers one mile offshore Mount Hope Bay and underwater pipeline facilities to offload and deliver LNG to the proposed terminal site at Fall River, MA.

The offshore berth would eliminate the need for LNG tankers to travel the Taunton River, which Congress is trying to declare off-limits by including it in the National Wild and Scenic River system, and would quell the concerns of the public and the U.S. Coast Guard about tankers transporting LNG between the old and new Brightman Street Bridges that span the Taunton River between the town of Somerset, MA, and Fall River. It also would "dramatically decrease" dredging in the Taunton River, the company said.

"We listened to the concerns expressed by the public and local politicians and this proposal, although costing significantly more than the earlier one, represents answers to those concerns," said Gordon Shearer, CEO of Weaver's Cove, a joint venture of Hess Corp. and Poten & Partners. Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said last week he would continue to oppose the Weaver's Cove project, regardless of the modified design.

The LNG terminal would represent one of the largest single investments ($700 million) ever made in southeast Massachusetts, and would generate more than 1,000 new jobs during the three-year construction period, Weaver's Cove said. In addition to lowering energy prices, Weaver's Cove said the project will generate $100 million in annual economic benefits during the operation of the facilities and add permanent jobs in the region.

The newly proposed facilities include structures to secure the LNG tanker in place during unloading operations. From the berth, twin underwater pipelines would transfer LNG to the proposed terminal on the bank of the Taunton River at Fall River. The terminal project and pipeline connections to the existing interstate natural gas system were approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in June 2005 (see NGI, July 4, 2005).

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 last April said it was exploring an alternative option that included building an offshore LNG unloading berth in Mount Hope Bay and an underwater pipeline to transport the LNG to Fall River (see NGI, April 7, 2008).

The Weaver's Cove project originally called for tankers to use the Taunton River to deliver LNG to the Fall River terminal. But the Coast Guard in 2007 found 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, Dec. 17, 2007; May 21, 2007).

The revised project complies with all federal, state and local regulations, including the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (if passed by Congress), the company said. It expects the regulatory review process to take about one year and construction to begin shortly thereafter.

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. 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.

The LNG terminal would increase the supply of natural gas to the New England region by 15% on average and 30% during peak demand periods, according to Weaver's Cove.

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