U.S. Coast Guard to Assess Passamaquoddy Bay for LNG Tankers

PORTLAND, Maine, January 6, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Coast Guard says it will assess safety and security issues associated with liquefied natural gas tankers transiting Passamaquoddy Bay, which separates Maine from the Canadian province of New Brunswick.

The assessment comes in response to two proposals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) ports on the bay - one from Downeast LNG to build a new terminal at the small resort town of Robbinston, 12 miles south of the U.S.-Canada border, and the other from Quoddy Bay LLC for a terminal on the Passamaquoddy Tribe's reservation at Pleasant Point.

The Coast Guard evaluation forms part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permitting process for the proposed terminal.

Downeast LNG of Calais, Maine, proposes to build a "state-of-the-art, environmentally safe" LNG receiving terminal in Robbinston. Initially, the company plans a single storage tank, processing equipment, a new 3,500 foot long pier and support buildings. The company plans to build a second storage tank after operations begin.

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Composed image of the proposed Robbinston LNG terminal looking across Passamaquoddy Bay southeast to New Brunswick. (Image courtesy Downeast LNG)
The proposed 80 acre site, known as Mill Cove, is near where the St. Croix River meets the Passamaquoddy Bay in Robbinston. The company anticipates developing about 30 of the 80 acres to be acquired and leave the rest undeveloped.

Robbinston is an historic resort town that welcomes visitors to locations such as Brewer House Bed and Breakfast, a former sea captain's mansion built in 1828, which is on The National Register of Historic Places.

The owner of Brewer House, who declined to give his name, said there is so much information to digest that he has not decided whether it is a good or bad thing for Robbinston and his business to have an LNG port in the town.

The Coast Guard received official notification of Downeast LNG’s plans on December 21, 2005 in Downeast LNG’s Letter of Intent, the first regulatory step in the Coast Guard’s assessment and validation approval process, designed to ensure LNG-laden ships operate safely.

This is the second such notification received by the Coast Guard in late December for potential siting of an LNG terminal in the Passamaquoddy Bay region.

Quoddy Bay LLC of Tulsa, Oklahoma is seeking permission to build a liquefied natural gas terminal on a 42 acre site at Sipayik, one of two Passamaquoddy Tribe reservations in eastern Maine. The site is on Pleasant Point on the western shore of Passamaquoddy Bay.

Both companies will provide the Coast Guard with a safety and security assessment that identifies navigational safety hazards as well as potential security threats, along with recommended mitigation measures and the federal, state, local and private sector resources that will be needed to provide an acceptable level of safety and security for the proposed LNG operations.

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Liquid natural gas tankers are all double-hulled. (Photo courtesy FERC)
“We plan to work very closely with local officials, our Port Safety Forum, and the Area Maritime Security Committee in evaluating all proposals,” said Captain Stephen Garrity, Coast Guard Captain of the Port Sector Northern New England.

“We will also be looking for comments from the general public in the U.S. and Canada to ensure the full range of issues associated with moving LNG tankers from the Bay of Fundy to Passamaquoddy Bay are considered," Garrity said.

Quoddy Bay's Pleasant Point project was proposed after Harpswell voters decided in March 2004 to reject an offer from TransCanada and ConocoPhillips that would have given those companies the rights to lease land owned by the town on Middle Bay.

Although the companies were offering $8 million a year in lease fees and property tax revenues, residents of nearby Harpswell, Maine feared that the terminal, the tankers, and the associated underwater pipeline would destroy fishing grounds and the town's residential and resort character.

Passamaquoddy Bay has seen little development; the heaviest industry is salmon farming and a container port at Eastport.

Many local residents do not want a pipeline going from Pleasant Point through Moosehorn National Wild Life Refuge or near Gleason State Park. Other LNG proposals in Maine - in Harpswell, Searsport and Gouldsboro - have been rejected due to local opposition.

On October 11, 2005, Columbus Day, a crowd demonstrated in downtown Portland, to draw attention to Savvy Inc.’s work as a public relations firm for Quoddy Bay LLC.

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Demonstrators in Portland, Maine oppose LNG development. (Photo courtesy Indymedia)
Organized by Earth First!, demonstrators carried signs reading “Savvy: Stop Selling Environmental Racism,” and “500 Years is Enough, Stop the Invasion.” The group also performed a short skit, showing three LNG tankers, named after Columbus’s ships, the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria. Each ship brought forth a different plague to the Passamaquoddy, and described how LNG development would perpetuate and renew imperialism and injustice. One ship carried disease, one slavery and one environmental devastation.

“The indigenous people of this land have already survived European invasion, wars, diseases (small pox), slavery, acculturation, oppression, and racism. I can’t help but wonder if it’s LNG that is today’s “pox” blanket, the ultimate scorched earth policy?" writes Madonna Soctomah, a former Passamaquoddy tribal representative, in a position paper posted on the Ntulankeyutmonen Nkihtaqmikon (We Take Care of Our Homeland) website.

"Ntutlankeyutmonen Nkihtaqmikon are not the opposition as much as we are human beings devoted to this land," writes another tribal member, Vera Francis, on the site.

Across Passamaquoddy Bay, in Charlotte County, New Brunswick, Canada, opposition to the Quoddy Bay LNG project is widespread. In September, 2005 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) Eric Allaby, representing Fundy Isles, and Rick Doucet, MLA for Charlotte, jointly wrote Prime Minister Paul Martin seeking his help in opposing the development

"We issued this letter jointly to demonstrate the widespread opposition in Charlotte County to LNG in Passamaquoddy, and to ask the Prime Minister, now that an application has been made official by this filing, to dedicate the necessary and appropriate effort to serve our Canadian interests in opposing LNG in Passamaquoddy," said Allaby. "We want the Prime Minister to protect the Passamaquoddy Bay and all Canadian citizens and Canadian concerns in the Passamaquoddy area."

"I have been impressed by how all Charlotte County is working together to oppose LNG in Passamaquoddy," said Doucet. "We have all the mayors, ourselves as MLA’s, our MP, the Premier, Opposition Leader Shawn Graham, and federal Regional Minister Hon. Andy Scott, all saying no to LNG in Passamaquoddy."

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Garrity said, "The safety and security of the facility and port, its surrounding communities, our marine environment, and the very vessels transporting the commodity remain my top priority. It is paramount that all concerned work jointly and cooperatively to ensure accurate and balanced decisions are arrived at."

FERC is responsible for authorizing the siting, construction, and operation of onshore LNG facilities.

Once FERC receives an application for an LNG facility, it is required to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), evaluating issues ranging from air quality and biological impacts, to cultural and socioeconomic impacts, to safety and security impacts.

The Coast Guard will serve as a cooperating agency for the EIS in accordance with provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). When completed, the Coast Guard may adopt portions of the EIS in order to satisfy its NEPA obligations.

The United States currently has about 110 LNG facilities and 151 ships in operation; 55 ships are under construction. In New England, there are 46 LNG storage tanks located in 31 communities; all have operated without serious public safety incidents, some for as long as 40 years.

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Composed image of the proposed Downeast LNG terminal from Robbinston, Maine. (Image courtesy Downeast LNG)
Downeast LNG says it is committed to environmental responsibility if its proposal for the Robbinston site is approved.

The company explains on its website that LNG is transported in double hulled, tankers, "more advanced and better constructed" than the oil tankers they resemble. In addition to the double hulls, the LNG is stored within two other internal containers to protect against leaks and to keep it cold.

LNG shipping has an excellent safety record, Downeast points out, with no major accidents in more than 30 years, and no release of LNG during a total of about 40 million miles traveled on some 45,000 voyages.

Downeast LNG pledges that, "No chemicals or other pollutants will be discharged into the St. Croix River or Passamaquoddy Bay. The plant will be quiet, with lighting kept to a minimum. LNG terminals have very low environmental emissions. There are very limited air emissions and only rainwater is drained from the site. There are almost no chemicals used in the process."

Some of the 300 remaining North Atlantic Right whales left on Earth migrate through the nearby Bay of Fundy and may enter Passamaquoddy Bay. But Downeast says, "No impact is expected on right whales during transit of the ships serving Downeast LNG. We will, however, study this issue more thoroughly during our Environmental Impact Statement process and in consultation with environmental agencies and conservation groups."