Oxnard opposition reroutes proposed LNG pipeline

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Outcry has forced BHP Billiton to change route of pipeline for proposed liquefied natural gas terminal off the coast of Oxnard near Malibu. FERC says federal government, not the states, has regulatory control over LNG terminal approvals.

By Mark Bassett/Special to The Malibu Times

Overwhelming objection to the proposed landfall of a pipeline that would transport liquefied natural gas from a deepwater port off the coast of Ventura County, 14 miles northwest of Malibu’s coastline, to Ormond Beach in Oxnard, has resulted in the rerouting of the proposed pipeline further east.

In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard has put on hold review of BHP Billiton’s proposed Cabrillo Port project, with a deepwater regasification terminal to be located 14 miles off of the coast of Point Dume, until the company provides more technical and environmental data.

The community of Oxnard, public officials and environmental activists lobbied against the proposed pipeline, concerned about the dangers of a leak from the pipeline.

“The onshore pipeline route has changed in response to comments received at the March scoping meetings,” said Kathi Hann, public affairs consultant for BHP Billiton. “BHP Billiton completed responses to all data requests by the end of May. The State Lands Commission also has data requests, and these are presently being addressed.”

Hann explained that the onshore pipeline was to run along an existing pipeline to Ormand Beach in the City of Oxnard. After public and official dissent at the March scoping meetings, BHP Billiton consulted with Southern California Gas Company, and relocated the proposed pipeline, which will carry LNG from Cabrillo Port to shore, east of major population areas.

“LNG is an asphyxiant and cryogenic with the potential for catastrophic complications resulting in death,” said Susan Jordan, director of California Coastal Protection Network, at a public scoping meeting in Malibu on March 16. “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.”

Australian mining giant BHP Billiton has spent $350,000 to sponsor a proposal for a LNG receiving terminal to be moored 14 miles off of the coast near Point Dume. The project would consist of a port with three storage tanks, three-football fields long by three football fields wide that would receive three LNG tanker shipments per week from the Pacific Rim, and distribute 1.5 billion cubic feet of LNG via an ocean floor pipeline. 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.

The Malibu City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the LNG deepwater port. The resolution set forth that the Malibu City Council send a letter to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard strongly opposing the Cabrillo Port project, and to monitor the development of any proposed LNG projects and send letters of opposition to appropriate agencies as necessary.

Cy Oggins, staff environmental scientist for the State Lands Commission, said the data requests that stopped the Cabrillo Port project are a facet of the joint federal and state environmental review process. Originally scheduled for a June release, the draft of the joint Environmental Impact Review and Environmental Impact Study currently being prepared by the U.S. Coast Guard and State Lands Commission will now be available to the public for review later this summer. Part of the Coast Guard’s appraisal includes the creation of a risk assessment matrix, which addresses threats of terrorism and catastrophic accidents. When complete, a public hearing will follow, and comments on the draft document will be incorporated into the final environmental report.

In the past 18 months, two LNG projects, one submitted by ConocoPhillips and TransCanada for the coast of Harpswell, Maine, and a Calpine LNG import terminal in Eureka City near San Francisco, were both withdrawn because of overwhelming opposing community sentiment.

However, public outcry might not stop future plans for LNG terminals. The Mobile Register of Alabama reported Sunday that the “Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued official orders stating unequivocally that the federal government, not the states, has final say over where new LNG terminals can be built. And, a new bill in the U.S. House seeks to remove decision-making power regarding LNG terminals from the states.”

According to the Mobile Register, “Together, the regulatory moves may limit the impact of the intense local opposition that has thwarted a number of LNG proposals in the last two years on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts.”

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the Cabrillo Port project is estimated to yield $15 billion in earnings for Australia. The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to promote Australian liquefied natural gas and the project. After the closed-door meeting with Schwarzenegger, Howard told reporters the governor made positive comments about the project. However, a Schwarzenegger spokesman would not comment on the governor’s opinion of the project.