Along the Southern California coast another press conference was set Thursday by environmental groups opposed to a proposal for an offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal — NorthernStar Natural Gas Co.’s Clearwater Port. A competing proposal from Australian-based Woodside Natural Gas Inc., OceanWay, faces the same opposition, although its backers think they have listened and learned from the environmental community.

Although it was tabled in the state legislature as it adjourned Wednesday, a proposal for the state to do a thorough assessment of proposed LNG projects (SB 412) was supported by both Woodside and NorthernStar. The proposed law would have made the California Energy Commission the key reviewer of the LNG plans. Labor unions connected to the potential building of the LNG facilities reportedly killed the bill.

“We worked very aggressively at trying to come up with language that would work, and I think we came quite close,” said Woodside President Steve Larson, a former state energy official who now heads California-based operations for Woodside’s LNG plans that are designed to bring in gas imports without the need to build permanent regasification facilities along the coast (onshore or offshore).

An organization called the “No LNG Community Alliance of Ventura County” turned out at the Ventura Harbor 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles to raise questions about how NorthernStar’s proposed conversion of an idle oil platform 20 miles offshore would impact everything from air quality to global warming. The group planned to meet at the dock where Clearwater Port advocates were hosting a whale watch cruise.

Larson said Woodside has been talking with the environmental groups for a long time, listening to them, and even though their opposition may lengthen the permitting process, Woodside’s corporate backers in Australia are willing to see this project through for the long haul. They are convinced there is a market in California for their North Shelf gas, and they have the best and least envrironmentally intrusive way to get it here.

“The idea here is to deliver gas by the last quarter of 2012 or the first three quarters of 2013 — that’s what is in our application [to the U.S. Coast Guard and the City of Los Angeles],” said Larson, adding that Woodside most likely will begin expanding its California staff to start detailed engineering work next year. Its plans are relatively simple from an energy infrastructure standpoint.

“Our target date is a real commitment because we are using these specially designed [regasification] ships, which will be a modification of existing ones. When the permitting process is done, we need to have two ships to begin commercial operations.”

The key for Woodside is an underwater buoy system that Larson said is not new, but will involve a new variation of the technology, sitting 150 feet below the surface of the water where one of the regasification ships will come and attach to it. Then the ship works over a period of days to transform the LNG back into its gaseous state — using air, not seawater — and into the undersea natural gas transmission pipeline that will be attached to the buoy.

The 28-mile trip to shore will actually take a 35-mile pipeline because of the curved path to a point at the northwest corner of the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). From that point a new transmission pipeline of about four miles will run easterly along the northern border the LAX to a three-acre industrial site in the adjoining suburb of Inglewood, CA. At the warehouse site, the interconnection with the SoCalGas transmission pipeline system will be made.

Other active offshore proposals involve more infrastructure, although Clearwater Port banks on having to only convert an existing offshore structure — as opposed to building new structures, and another offshore proposal south of Long Beach by Esperanza Energy LLC, a unit of San Antonio-based Tidelands Oil & Gas Corp., would link to an onshore gas-fired electric generation plant, of which there are several located in the Long Beach-Huntington Beach area. A horizontally drilled tunnel buried 100 feet under the beach would provide a conduit for water, communications and electrical lines to serve the offshore terminal while also providing an artery in which to run an undersea natural gas pipeline for bringing the LNG in gaseous form to shore (see Daily GPI, March 9).

Clearwater is in the midst of its environmental review, and Esperanza said it hopes to file an application by the end of this year.

Woodside is counting on the more unobtrusive aspects of its subsea pipeline and buoy. “When the ship is not there you can’t see anything, and even when the ship’s there, it’s 28 miles offshore,” Larson said. “We’re going to be good to the whales and we’re located five miles down from the shipping lanes.”

All of the gasification takes place at sea and the gas is brought onshore through a subsurface tunnel under the beach and then runs under city streets in Los Angeles and Inglewood near LAX until it gets to the interconnection point where it will be treated, odorized, measured and made ready for mixture with the other pipeline quality gas. Horizontal drilling will be used both from the beach offshore and from that point inward to reach the interconnection point.

“There will be a California Coastal Commission approval required because we go under the beach,” Larson said, “and we expect that it will be one of the hardest permits to get.” The coastal panel last April rejected an offshore LNG terminal proposal by another Australian resources company, BHP Billiton (see Daily GPI, April 16).

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