Divergent views on exporting gas through bay

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Associated Press

Posted on June 25, 2014 at 4:06 PM

LUSBY, Md. (AP) — Dominion Resources' proposal to build a liquefied natural gas export facility is dividing residents of the quiet town of Lusby on the Chesapeake Bay.

Some, like longtime resident Tracey Eno are worried about increased air pollution.

"That can't be good for me. I mean that's just common sense," said Eno, 44, who lives 1½ miles from the site. "Is that going to show up as asthma? Lung cancer?

"Are there going to be effects that we're not even aware of at this point?"

But others, including Mary Tallant, 60, are all for the project.

"It's bringing jobs to the county, and more tax dollars," said Tallant, who lives two miles from the Dominion site in southern Maryland.

She noted that the area on the bay's western shore is already home to a nuclear power plant, and "I don't see anyone complaining."

Richmond, Virginia-based Dominion wants to build the $3.8 billion project at its existing Cove Point liquefied natural gas terminal on the bay, which the company used for years to import natural gas. Now, thanks to a boom in natural gas fueled by hydraulic fracturing, Dominion has contracts to export natural gas to Japan and India, where gas prices are higher than in the U.S.

On Wednesday, the House voted for a GOP-backed bill aimed at expediting federal approval for projects like Dominion's, which Republicans argue will help U.S. allies. The bill faces a less certain fate in the Senate.

With business for imports slowing, Dominion hopes to begin its export operations in 2017. It envisions that 85 ships would leave from its terminal each year, carrying gas that has been cooled to liquid at minus 260 degrees. The gas is shipped in liquid form for ease of transport.

"This project will export clean energy to our allies overseas and bring much needed jobs, tax revenues and economic stability to southern Maryland," said Michael Frederick, vice president for LNG Operations at Dominion Cove Point LNG, a Dominion subsidiary which runs the Cove Point plant. The company says the project will yield up to an additional $40 million in annual property taxes to Calvert County.

Frederick confirmed the project would increase emissions of hazardous air pollutants, but added: "Any new air emissions will be in compliance with stringent state and federal clean air regulations."

Last month, the Maryland Public Service Commission granted conditional approval to the 130-megawatt power plant project. One of the conditions was that Dominion spend $48 million on clean energy, energy efficiency and to help low-income customers with their bills. Regulators said they imposed the conditions because the project wouldn't provide a net benefit to Maryland residents as proposed.

Meanwhile, a report by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff concluded that the project would have "no significant impact" on the environment. The commission will ultimately decide whether Dominion's plan to export liquefied natural gas, also known as LNG, can go forward. To date, FERC has approved two LNG export projects.

At a rally this week, about two dozen activists protested outside FERC headquarters in Washington, chanting, "Obama and FERC: Let renewables do the work." They held signs with messages such as "Clean energy, not Cove Point."

The protesters are seeking a moratorium on new gas export permits and more exhaustive environmental reviews.

Not everyone in Lusby has formed an opinion about the plant one way or another.

Alan Spahr is among the undecideds, but it's not for lack of knowledge about the project.

The 61-year-old computer software designer is president of the Cove Point Beach Association. Originally from Alexandria, Virginia, Spahr has lived here for just 4½ years, but his family has been on the bay since the 1930s.

"I've had concerns from the very beginning," Spahr said in his sunroom facing the bay, where waves crashed on a stormy morning. "This is not like putting up a traffic light."

He said he wants to preserve the quality of life that brought him to the bay — "the air we breathe, the sand we walk on, the sounds of animals we hear." If Dominion can guarantee his quality of life won't change, he's for it.

Have they? "That's tough to answer," said Spahr, whose house is less than a mile from Dominion's property line.

"They've been excellent stewards of the land," he said, noting the company helped to restore a freshwater marsh damaged in a 2006 storm.

Because of a deal that Dominion's predecessor, Columbia Gas System, reached with environmentalists, most of Dominion's roughly 1,000-acre plot is undeveloped as a nature preserve, including the bay beach and freshwater marshes. Dominion stresses that the new export facility would be built within its existing 131-acre fenced-in operational footprint.

About 11 acres of woods would be cleared for the export facility; to make up for this, Dominion would permanently preserve 13 acres of forest elsewhere in Calvert County.

"We have a history of environmental protection," said Frederick, the Dominion vice president.

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Follow Fred Frommer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ffrommer

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