Protesters Urge Agency to Stop Fracked Gas Exports
by Zach St. Louis, 7/17/2014
On July 13, over 1,000 protestors marched from the U.S. Capitol to the doors of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). They urged the agency to reject a proposal to construct a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Lusby, Maryland, which is just 60 miles south of the White House.
The proposed export terminal at Cove Point would store large amounts of liquefied natural gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale plays located throughout the Mid-Atlantic before shipping it overseas. The rally drew residents from throughout the region who expressed fierce opposition to the terminal’s construction. Those who protested are worried about the health and safety risks associated with exporting large amounts of liquefied natural gas from a terminal near their communities. Many also expressed concern over possible expansion of fracking practices in the region if an export terminal were built. Fracking uses toxic chemicals that are injected underground to fracture shale rock and has been linked to water contamination and other health and safety risks.
To liquefy natural gas, it must be cooled to a temperature of minus 259 degrees Fahrenheit, which can freeze human tissue on contact. Additionally, if an LNG tanker catches fire, it has the ability to burn victims one mile away. Past incidents at liquefied natural gas storage facilities have been deadly.
Past incidents at liquefied natural gas storage facilities have been deadly.
Dominion Resources, a Richmond, Virginia-based power and energy company, is behind the proposal, seeking to convert its existing import facility at Cove Point into a bi-directional import/export terminal. If completed, the $3.8 billion project would result in a facility capable of exporting up to 1.8 billion cubic feet of gas per day, mostly obtained through fracking in the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations, which cover a large portion of Pennsylvania and several other states. Dominion already has contracts in place with energy companies in India and Japan for the liquefied natural gas from Cove Point.
The Cove Point project received conditional approval in September 2013 from the Department of Energy, the agency that will make the final decision on whether the project will move forward. The final approval is pending FERC's completion of an environment assessment and decision on whether Dominion can move forward with construction of the new facilities at the Cove Point site.
An initial FERC assessment of the proposal was favorable for Dominion. The commission stated, “The FERC staff concludes that approval of the proposed project, with appropriate mitigating measures, would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” Since issuing that assessment in mid-May, FERC has rejected requests from U.S. senators and representatives, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and environmental groups for an extension of the 30-day public comment period on the proposal. Similarly, the Maryland Court of Appeals denied the Sierra Club’s request to halt the project entirely.
While there is no official timeline for its decision, FERC is expected to release its official response to Dominion’s request later this month. The response will address concerns raised in public comments, and it may require the company to adjust its proposal to take into account other environmental impacts. However, Mike Frederick, the vice president of Dominion Resources LNG Operations, has stated that he fully expects FERC approval, and he anticipates that the export terminal will begin operations in 2017. Construction of the new facilities at Cove Point will begin later this year.
Movements to ban fracking and to remove liquefied natural gas storage facilities have succeeded in the past.
In response to the protests, biologist and author Dr. Sandra Steingraber explained that this isn’t the first time small groups have fought big corporations on this issue. Movements to ban fracking and to remove liquefied natural gas storage facilities have succeeded in the past, even when battling large corporations worth billions of dollars.