The city of Fall River, MA will be joined by the attorneys general of Massachusetts and Rhode Island Friday in seeking rehearing of FERC’s approval of the Weaver’s Cove LNG terminal. Also filing amicus briefs will be the cities of Bristol, Newport and Portsmouth, all in Rhode Island. The Conservation Law Foundation, a large environmental group based in Boston, also is expected to separately seek rehearing of the order.
The parties plan to cite a provision in the recently enacted Transportation Equity Act, which makes it illegal for the Brightman Street Bridge, connecting Fall River and Somerset, MA, to be demolished to allow LNG cargo traffic up the Taunton River to the terminal. The transportation bill was signed into law on Wednesday.
“The project just can’t happen now because the bridge is not coming down,” said Eric Poulin, a press aide for Fall River Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr. “This is not a matter of federal preemption.”
The new law barring the destruction of the bridge is a “fatal flaw” for the project, he told NGI.
He noted that Fall River has hired three Washington, DC, lawyers, formerly with Swidler & Berlin, to handle their case. They are Edward Berlin, Lester Hyman and Robert Taylor.
FERC approved the Weaver’s Cove project, which is being built by Amerada Hess Corp. and Poten & Partners, in June after imposing what it considered stringent safety and security conditions (see Daily GPI, July 1). The City of Fall River and the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island obviously believe those conditions weren’t nearly stringent enough.
In an interview with NGI, attorney Edward Berlin said the Commission erred in not allowing expert testimony on LNG cargo safety and made a big mistake in allowing the project to go forward without even knowing many of the facts about the project.
“There are lots of things that are yet unknown about this project,” said Berlin. “We don’t know whether a security plan can be developed for the safe transport of LNG carriers up these very narrow and heavily congested waterways. We don’t yet know whether or not an evacuation and emergency response plan can satisfactorily be put together. We don’t know a whole host of answers to a lot of environmental issues: for example where the spoils from 2.5 MMcf of dredging materials will be placed.
“In our judgment the Commission simply cannot make the public interest determination that’s required of Section 3 of the Natural Gas Act with all of that information unknown.”
Berlin said FERC simply ignored experts, including former Antiterrorism Advisor Richard Clarke and all the local safety officials in the region, regarding the potential for a terrorist attack and the impact it would have.
“The critical issue is can terrorist attacks be prevented and if they cannot be prevented can you accurately protect the health and safety of the contiguous population,” said Berlin. “Remember this is the first time post 9-11 where we have ever considered putting an LNG facility in the midst of a populated downtown area. And it clearly is the first time — since this is not even the case with Distrigas at the Everett, MA, facility, where there would be a need for tankers to traverse 21 miles of inland water ways in very close proximity to densely populated areas.”
Another fatal error FERC made, he said, was its decision to defer critical determinations on safety to other agencies, such as the Department of Transportation and the U.S. Coast Guard. On the same day in the KeySpan LNG case, the Commission took the opposite view and determined that KeySpan, even though it was entitled to grand fathering under the DOT’s safety regulations, nevertheless did not satisfy FERC’s public interest standard.
But all this may be moot, Berlin said, because of the language in the Transportation Act that preserves the Brightman Street Bridge. “With the Brightman Street Bridge in place, it is our understanding that it is not possible to get tankers to the Weaver’s Cove site,” he said. “We are asking the Commission in light of that to in effect have almost in the nature of a show-cause proceeding, to ask Weaver’s Cove why the application should not be dismissed as moot.
“Quite frankly it would be most unfortunate if the Commission has to grapple with [our rehearing request] or worse yet, we have to go to court to challenge the Commission… if in fact this project isn’t going anywhere.”
The $250 million Fall River, MA, LNG project would provide 800 MMcf/d of peak sendout capacity, 400 MMcf/d of baseload supply and 200,000 metric tons of LNG storage. The project would take up 68 of 73 acres at a former petroleum import terminal on the Taunton River, which feeds into Mount Hope Bay and Narragansett Bay about 50 miles south of Boston. Mill River Pipeline LLC would build two short pipelines to the Algonquin Gas Transmission system from the terminal to carry 400,000 Dth/d on average.
FERC staff said the safety and security review process for the facility was the “most extensive effort ever performed in Commission staff’s consideration of an LNG import project.” Staff said the decision would “serve as a blueprint for evaluating” all future LNG proposals.
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