Dangers of proposed LNG deepwater port discussed

The Cabrillo Deepwater Port proposed by BHP Billiton would be located 14 miles northwest off the coast of Malibu.

The deepwater port would be located 14 miles northwest off the coast of Malibu.

By Mark Bassett/Special to The Malibu Times

More than 60 people gathered at Malibu High School last week to voice concerns and to learn more information about a proposed liquid natural gas deepwater port proposal that would be built 14 miles northwest off the coast of Malibu.

The project, sponsored by Australian mining giant BHP Billiton, would consist of a storage tanker three football fields long by six football fields wide. It would receive three LNG tanker shipments per week from the Pacific Rim, and distribute 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas via an ocean floor pipeline to an Oxnard processing plant. LNG is cooled, compressed natural gas, and at the proposed Cabrillo Port, it would be regasified to its natural state, and then transported via the pipeline.

At the public scoping meeting on March 16, the State Lands Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard presented details about the proposed port and conducted a question-and-answer session. The two agencies are to conduct environmental impact and review reports on the deepwater port.

The California Coastal Protection Network called for mobilization and communication between state and federal environmental agencies, and the community on the proposed port.

“LNG is an asphyxiant and cryogenic with the potential for catastrophic complications resulting in death,” said Susan Jordan, director of CCPN, who also spoke on behalf of Malibu CAN. “Concerns revolve around the odorization of the gas, earthquake issues for the pipelines, the proximity to the shipping channels and the likelihood of collisions, the proximity to the Pacific Missile Test Range, [and] reliability of moorings in bad weather.”

A similar LNG proposal by Calpine in Humboldt County was recently abandoned due to overwhelming community opposition, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. The opposition was in part motivated by a January LNG explosion in Algeria that killed 27 people and injured more than 80. The explosion occurred days after Australian LNG leaders offered U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham reassurances as to the safety of LNG, and the services of safety experts to consult on pending California projects-including BHP’s Cabrillo Port, and a Mitsubishi receiving terminal in Long Beach. According to Australian news reports, it was the worst LNG accident since 128 people were killed in an explosion in Cleveland, Ohio in 1944, which vaporized several city blocks.

Representatives from BHP contend that their proposed floating regasification terminal, 14 miles from Point Dume, is far less complex than the Algerian plant because it does not include gas purification facilities.

“We hope to have our project completed by 2008,” said Kathi Hann, BHP public affairs consultant. “To supply 18 percent of Southern California’s natural gas needs at a moderate cost.”

Currently, natural gas is dispersed to California from diminishing gas fields in the Rocky Mountains. At the recent Malibu scoping meeting, Sydney Daly of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, said that natural gas demand is increasing while domestic supplies are diminishing; new sources of natural gas will be needed for California to move into the future.

While acknowledging the clean-air benefits of natural gas, resident author Kraig Hill addressed concerns about the location of the LNG facility, stating that the site is well within the working boundary of the current proposal to expand the Channel Island’s Sanctuary to Point Dume, and encroaches on whale migration routes.

“The state has designated most if not all of the coastal waters from Point Dume to Oxnard as a significant ecological area,” Hill said. “It’s 10 miles from the Malibu Marine Refuge … as well as a number of highly ecologically-sensitive areas in and closer to the shore zone.”

The first public comment period ends on March 31, and input from individuals and associations will be factored into an independent study being conducted by Ecology and Environment, under the supervision of the state of California. Because the project will be conducted under both state and federal jurisdiction, and because of fears of terrorism and issues of national security, the joint environment impact study and environmental impact review will utilize experts from state and federal agencies. However, the decision to issue a license, issue a license with caveats or to reject the project will fall on the state of California.

The project’s assessment is funded by BHP Billiton, including a $350,000 initial application fee. The evaluating agencies include the California Coastal Commission, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard. Part of the Coast Guard’s appraisal includes the creation of a risk assessment matrix, which addresses threats of terrorism and catastrophic accidents.

“We are going to look at what could go wrong, how likely a scenario is to occur, and if something does go wrong what are the consequences,” said Andrew Wolford, president of AJ Wolford and Associates, a Coast Guard risk management consultancy that has marine intelligence officers and terrorism experts on staff.

Opposition to the BHP project in Oxnard is significant. Reading a letter written by Dr. Manuel M. Lopez, mayor of Oxnard, attorney Tim Riley said that 25 years ago the city of Oxnard mapped the possibility of an LNG vapor plume formed by a leak at a proposed onshore facility. If a spark ignited the plume when the gas reached a volatile concentration, the resulting devastation would be in the millions of dollars and thousands of lives lost. He said that at the time the area was less densely populated and that terrorism was not a factor. He urged consideration of alternate sites for the BHP re-gasification facility.