US: Wary of Protests, Exxon Plans Natural Gas Terminal in the Atlantic

Publisher Name: 
New York Times
Exxon Mobil said Tuesday that it would like to build a $1 billion
floating terminal for liquefied natural gas about 20 miles off the
coast of New Jersey, a move meant to deflect safety and environmental
concerns about proximity to populated areas.




The company plans to anchor a boatlike structure in the Atlantic Ocean
to process natural gas imported by cargo ships from faraway suppliers
in the Middle East, Europe and Africa.




The terminal, if approved, would connect through an underwater
pipeline to an existing network that feeds New York and New Jersey,
two of the top consumer markets in North America.




Exxon's project is the latest of several dozen gas terminals that
have been proposed in recent years in the United States. Energy
specialists say more natural gas supplies will be needed to meet the
growth in consumption and to make up for an expected drop in imports
from Canada.




In many cases, energy companies have faced stiff opposition in finding
sites for large new terminals. This has become one of the thorniest
energy issues, especially since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, raised
security concerns about cargo ships carrying liquefied gas near big
cities.




Still, companies are slowly moving forward with their plans. Since
2002, federal and state authorities have approved 18 new liquefied gas
terminals around the country, including 4 offshore, though most
analysts do not expect all of them to be built.




While most of the projects are planned along the Gulf Coast, the
northeastern corner of the country is attracting attention because of
its reliance on natural gas and its large populations. Two terminals
to be built off Massachusetts gained approval last year. For Exxon,
going so far offshore is an effort to duck the vociferous opposition
that has dogged projects on both coasts. Its project, called BlueOcean
Energy, would be able to supply 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas
a day, about 2 percent of the nation's gas consumption - and
enough to meet the needs of five million residential customers.




Exxon's project is the third offshore terminal proposed for the
greater New York region in recent years.




One proposal, to build a gas terminal in the middle of Long Island
Sound, has aroused concern since its announcement in 2004 because of
the impact it might have on fishing and boating; it is strongly
opposed by shore communities and politicians.




That opposition could intensify in coming months as the project, which
is known as Broadwater and is a joint venture by Royal Dutch Shell and
TransCanada, is expected to receive notice about federal and state
permits.




Another company, the Atlantic Sea Island Group, plans to build a
terminal for liquefied natural gas on an artificial island about 14
miles south of Long Island, a project called Safe Harbor Energy.




Opponents of natural gas terminals have cited the potential for leaks,
fires, explosions or terrorist bombings. The industry has generally
argued that the terminals are secure and accidents are rare, but it
has also started looking for ways to build them as far as possible
from population centers.




Exxon said its plant anchored off New Jersey, about 30 miles south of
Long Island, would not be visible from shore and would stay clear of
shipping lanes and recreational areas.




"We have tried to learn from our past experiences and that of the
industry in general," said Ron P. Billings, Exxon's vice president
for global liquefied natural gas.




The company said it would soon start the lengthy process of seeking
regulatory approval from state and federal agencies, as well as the
Coast Guard. Because of the complex regulatory procedure, the plant is
not expected to begin processing until the middle of the next
decade.




Natural gas shipped by tanker from abroad in a supercold liquid form
accounts for about 3 percent of domestic consumption, but the
government estimates that share could rise to 17 percent by 2030. At
terminals like those proposed near New York, liquefied natural gas is
processed into the gas form, which is used to heat homes, power
electric plants and fuel many industrial activities. Natural gas
accounts for about a quarter of the nation's energy
supplies.

Imports of liquefied natural gas are expected to jump 35 percent this
year compared with last. But the growth is likely to slow next year
because of delays with new terminals, according to the federal Energy
Information Administration.




"So far no one has been able to crack the nut of getting
infrastructure sited in the Northeast, and that's why you have all
these proposals to go offshore and avoid heavily populated areas,"
said Mariano Gurfinkel, a project manager at the Center for Energy
Economics at the University of Texas.




Exxon's new project would receive two cargo ships a week. The gas
would be carried by underwater pipeline that would come ashore at
Raritan Bay in New Jersey.

AMP Section Name:Energy
  • 183 Environment