FERC staff said on Friday in the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on Cheniere Energy Inc.'s Corpus Christi Liquefaction LLC liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal and associated pipeline that the project would not cause significant environmental harm as long as mitigation measures were taken.

Among mitigating factors related to the project that were cited by staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are the fact that the terminal is sited in an industrialized area and dredge material is to be disposed of beneficially as it will cap bauxite disposal beds. As part of the review process, staff evaluated project alternatives, including 12 system alternatives: six operating LNG import terminals in the Gulf of Mexico area and six proposed/planned LNG export projects along the Gulf Coast.

"All of the systems were eliminated from further consideration for reasons that include the need for substantial construction beyond that currently proposed, production volume limitations, in-service dates scheduled significantly beyond Cheniere's schedule, including any customer commitments, and environmental impacts that were considered comparable to or greater than those of the proposed project," FERC staff said.

Staff said three alternative terminal sites also were evaluated, two near the proposed site and one near Brownsville, TX. None of the sites was determined to be preferable.

The export terminal slated for Corpus Christi, TX, is Cheniere's second and its first greenfield export project. Construction is under way at Cheniere's Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana (see Daily GPIJune 6a), a brownfield project at the site of existing regasification facilities and the only export project so far to have gained FERC and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) clearance.

DOE recently proposed a rejigger of its protocol for reviewing applications to export LNG to non-free trade agreement (FTA) countries (see Daily GPIMay 29), which has upset some project developers (see Daily GPIJune 4) and would-be LNG buyers (see Daily GPI, June 6b). The proposed changes would require projects to secure FERC approval prior to DOE undertaking their export license review. Developers upset by the change say the FERC process is much more onerous and costly than the DOE process and that a project backer could spend tens of millions of dollars on environmental review only to have an export license nixed by DOE.

Analysts at ClearView Energy Partners have been following the FERC and DOE action and have said that the applicant queues at both agencies now look similar. Sempra Energy's Cameron LNG project in Louisiana is next up for a FERC decision, which is expected when the Commission meets Thursday. "Issuance of an approval order on June 19 would put action on Cameron squarely within the FERC's internal guidance range at 50 days [after final environmental documents are issued]," ClearView said in a note Thursday.

ClearView analysts are estimating that sometime during July-August FERC will decide on Dominion's Cove Point LNG as well as Freeport LNG's FLEX and FLEX Expansion. In October-November the analysts expect FERC to rule on trains five and six at Cheniere's Sabine Pass, and then in November-December they anticipate a ruling on Cheniere's Corpus Christi project.

Cameron, Cove Point and the Freeport FLEX projects have all received conditional non-FTA export approval from DOE. Trains five and six at Sabine, and Corpus Christi have yet to get a nod from DOE.