Application completed for offshore liquefied natural gas facility

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With license application processing complete, a $500 million floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal could be in operation by 2008 just 20 miles off Ventura County and only 14 miles offshore from Arroyo Sequit, near Malibu.

Safety hazards and risks posed by such a facility concern local residents. Some say the LNG terminal could expose residents of the coast to vapor clouds that could be released by accident or by an act of terrorism, which under certain conditions could ignite, causing widespread devastation. Critics of that view say that such a catastrophe could never occur.

Australia-based BHP Billiton, which would build and operate the facility, faces an extensive environmental review process that will take into account economic, environmental, marine habitat and public safety issues. A public hearing will be scheduled as part of the review for the deepwater terminal, which is expected to take a year and will be overseen by the Coast Guard and the California State Lands Commission.

Federal and state approvals for establishing LNG facilities are expected to keep energy costs competitive while continuing to meet the strict environmental and air quality standards, according to the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA), which approves such a facility.

The clean burning natural gas has already acquired an international reputation for generating electricity efficiently and inexpensively. However, to meet Southern California’s ongoing energy and regulatory demands, VICA stated in a press release dated Feb. 2 that transportation to and storage nearby in a “safe, floating offshore facility” would benefit businesses and residents, and also satisfy environmentalists’ concerns.

The BHP facility, called Cabrillo Port, would be placed outside Santa Barbara Channel shipping lanes and marine migratory routes, as well as away from the Point Mugu Navy Base and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

The deepwater port would be the first floating terminal on the West Coast and would act as a receiving point for shipments of California-bound natural gas. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to VICA’s statement, maintains that when natural gas is cooled to a negative 162.2 C into LNG form, it can be transported much easier than if solely done by pipeline from major exporting gas fields in other countries. The liquid natural gas from the Cabrillo Port terminal would be converted to natural gas through a heat exchange system and transported onshore through an undersea pipeline.

Some say the proposed Cabrillo Port terminal could be a potential tragedy zone. Fires at LNG import terminals are rare but when they happen, they can be devastating.

An LNG blast in an Algeria Industrial Zone on Jan. 19, with a death toll of 23 and 74 injured workers, may highlight such safety concerns. One witness was reported saying the explosion was felt miles away.

Another major concern is the limited possibility for containment if LNG is spilled. LNG disperses faster on the ocean than on land because of the limited possibility for containment. This is a big concern for locals living on the coast. Furthermore, the Oxnard City Council has already conducted a risk assessment study on a similar LNG import facility proposal in the mid-70s, concerning safety risk under worst-case scenarios.

The study showed up to 70,000 casualties if a LNG accident were to occur. Citizens opposed the project and the LNG proposal was dropped.

With only extensive review processes left, if approved, the Cabrillo Port could be in operation by 2008.

In a story for The Malibu Times Sept. 11, 2003 issue, Malibu resident Hans Laetz, said, “In all honesty, this is the biggest threat to the safety of Malibu residents since the DWP wanted to build a nuclear power plant in [Malibu].”