Although the proponents are downplaying it, U.S. Coast Guard and California officials last week stopped the regulatory clock on Australian resource giant BHP Billiton’s proposed Cabrillo offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal along the Southern California coast. Basic operational, public safety and shipping information on the $550 million, 800 MMcf/d project was requested before the environmental review process can be resumed.

A letter from the Coast Guard last Wednesday said more information was needed from Billiton on the basic project details on construction and operation of the offshore terminal and pipeline for bringing gas supplies onshore, so to keep within the time limits for the environmental review, the federal agency is stopping the regulatory clock on the project. A preliminary list of questions and areas needing to be addressed was outlined in the letter with the admonition that more detailed questions would come later.

It is unclear whether the action will add weeks or months to the permitting process, according to a local Billiton spokesperson in Oxnard, CA. “We’re confident that consideration of the additional information requests will lead to a fuller understanding of the Cabrillo Port project’s safety and value,” said Kathi Hann, the local spokesperson for the project. She noted that the project sponsors haven’t really assessed how much extra time will be required, noting that the agencies — Coast Guard and California State Lands Commission — are the ones writing the environmental reports.

“We think it is good for them to take this extra time to consider all the comments (from a recent round of public input sessions), however long that takes,” Hann said. “We will respond to the data requests as required.”

The type of information being sought, based on the letter from the head of the Coast Guard Deepwater Ports Standards Division, includes: construction/operations plans for the facility, pipeline routes, interconnections onshore, LNG shipping details, training of crews and a raft of details on the public safety training and mitigation efforts including the liability/clean-up issues in the event of an incident.

Ultimately, the environmental reports both under the national and state requirements will look at the potential impacts on shipping traffic in the area, air quality, land/marine biology, geology, noise and water quality.

“Our requirement is to supply them with all the technical data that they request so they can complete their understanding and to address all of the comments that have come in from the public hearings,” Hann said.

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