In what could kick off a final decision by July, the final environmental review was released by the U.S. Coast Guard Friday on the proposed offshore Cabrillo Port liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal, 14 miles out to sea from Oxnard, CA, west of Malibu. The voluminous documents (48 pages for the table of contents alone) will be the subject of separate public hearings by the Coast Guard and California in early April.

The final report makes no recommendation for what state and federal decision-makers ultimately should do, but it provides endless data on the mitigation measures the project developers will have to take if they are given the permits to proceed with what would be California's first LNG receiving terminal.

Dated March 16, the environmental impact statement and report (EIS/EIR) were posted Friday on a website for the $550 million, 800 MMcf/d facility (www.cabrilloport.ene.com). It is a joint product of the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the California State Lands Commission. A Coast Guard/MARAD hearing will be held April 4, and the state lands commission hearing is scheduled for April 9.

The massive document that has been four years in the making with two different drafts and a 122-page conclusions/recommendations section will be used separately as the basis for the Coast Guard/MARAD decision of whether to give Australian-based BHP Billiton a deepwater port permit and for the state lands commission to decide if the company gets its required lease on state lands (onshore to three miles out to sea) on which pipelines and other equipment will be placed.

Ultimately, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has to decide whether to permit the project, and finally the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) must issue a record of decision (ROD). Billiton expects the final ROD some time in July, and then faces a five-year process of design, construction and contracting for various aspects of the project, said an Oxnard-based Billiton spokesperson.

Target dates for the first deliveries of LNG to Cabrillo Port are in the 2012-2013 time frame, the spokesperson said.

Billiton first applied for federal and state permits for its project in September 2003, seeking to build and operate a floating storage/regasification unit, two new 24-inch-diameter natural gas pipelines to an onshore metering station, connecting onshore natural gas pipelines that would be owned and operated by Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. utility, and related facilities.

An original draft EIS/EIR was submitted in October 2004 and then a revised in March 2006, both of which were taken into consideration, along with numerous public comments, in the final document that is now complete. The final EIS/EIR notes substantial changes by Billiton in its plans, significantly downsizing the number of tanker visits annually to between 65 and 99 from the previous estimate of 130 dockings annually. In addition, seawater now will not be used for cooling four generators used in the facility's operations

While the final document lists hundreds, if not thousands, of mitigation measures, and any final permits to proceed will carry the weight of all of these steps, the EIS/EIR also makes the point that "minor to moderate long-term, unmitigable significant impacts would remain for public safety, aesthetics, agriculture and soils, air quality, marine biology, noise, recreation, and water quality."

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