Reading the handwriting on the waves from state rejections last month of a similar project, the sponsors of the Clearwater Port liquefied natural gas (LNG) project off the Southern California coast late Tuesday offered to take stepped-up air emissions mitigation measures. They made the pledge to federal and state air quality regulators.

NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc. said its approach was appropriate given the onshore environmental concerns and should be followed by the three other offshore LNG terminal proposals in the area. It is a move obviously to head off some of the environmental concerns that undercut Australian-based BHP Billiton's offshore LNG project in state hearings last month.

While pledging to apply so-called "best available control technology" (BACT) to curb emission sources and compliance with the local air quality standards, NorthernStar has committed that as part of its regasification process it will "significantly reduce emissions" through the use of ambient air vaporizers (AAV), CEO William Garrett said in letters to the Ventura County Air Pollution Control Board and federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tuesday.

Clearwater Port will employ "modern temperatures and offshore winds" to warm the LNG until it returns to its gaseous state, Garrett told both Michael Villegas, Ventura's air pollution control officer; and Amy Zimpfer, associate director of the federal EPA's air division in San Francisco. By taking its voluntary actions, Garrett said NorthernStar hopes that "jurisdictional ambiguities" will be eliminated and what he called "appropriate local air board standards" eventually will be applied to his project.

He left the door open to "other voluntary initiatives" that might be proposed to provide "real, tangible" air quality benefits to the onshore communities, such as Oxnard and surrounding cities in Ventura County.

"AAVs require 80% less heat energy needed compared to combustion-based regasification technologies, resulting in correspondingly lower air emissions," Garrett said in his letters to the two respective air emissions regulatory agencies. "Additionally, our project's design avoids the use of onsite gas storage and processing, further minimizing its environmental footprint."

Clearwater Port proposes to convert the idle offshore oil platform Grace, about 12.6 miles off the south-facing Southern California coast, contending that upgrading an existing structure will cost less and take less construction time than building a completely new offshore facility. NorthernStar included the use of AAV technology in its revised filings to the U.S. Coast Guard and California State Lands Commission last July. Those two are the lead agencies among what the proponents said are 17 federal, state and local agencies that must give approvals in the offshore LNG siting process along the California coast.

"We are well aware that the subject of air emissions has received considerable attention in the public discussion of LNG import terminals," Garrett said in his letters. "We are also aware that there remain some unresolved questions regarding air emissions compliance for projects, including Clearwater Port, that are subject to jurisdiction of the Coast Guard and the EPA."

Noting that it wants to develop a project "respectful of the environment" that also provides more clean energy for California's economy, NorthernStar said its latest voluntary action reflects both its "values" and the fact the this action "is the right thing to do."

Since taking over the LNG project originally conceived by Houston-based Crystal Energy, NorthernStar has been active on the political, environmental and technical fronts. In the last 10 months, it has hired a former assistant Ventura County district attorney, a local Oxnard community leader, and finally California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's chief energy adviser, Joseph Desmond, who headed the state energy commission at one time. Desmond is NorthernStar's senior vice president for external affairs.

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