Coast Guard says ‘data gaps’ exist in LNG terminal application

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The U.S. Coast guard has a list questions for a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal proposed for off the coast near Malibu. Some concerns listed deal with pollution, ship collisions and danger to wildlife.

By Hans Laetz/Special to The Malibu Times

The U.S. Coast Guard has released a list of more than 100 “data gaps” and unanswered questions in the application from an Australian energy company to build California’s first floating liquefied natural gas terminal, proposed for off the Malibu/Oxnard coast.

Concerns about new sources of smog, ship collisions, earthquake dangers and the process for drilling two pipes across 20 miles of undersea wildlife habitat off Point Mugu are included in a comprehensive list of “data gap” questions from federal and state regulatory agencies obtained by The Malibu Times recently.

In a related matter, Rep. Lois Capps, a Democrat who represents parts of Ventura, said she is concerned that the U.S. Geologic Survey’s requests for additional geologic and oceanographic studies have not been placed in the public docket used by the Coast Guard to gather evidence about the proposal’s safety.

“The draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Cabrillo Port LNG terminal is full of holes … (and) so flawed, it is not surprising the seismic information is not included,” Congresswoman Capps said.

The draft EIR is being prepared under the direction of the Coast Guard and the California State Lands Commission at BHPB’s expense.

In Sacramento, state project manager Cy Oggins said the State Lands Commission is reevaluating its examination of seismic and oceanographic issues raised in a 2004 USGS study that had gone unreported until it was briefly mentioned in federal docket papers submitted by anti-LNG activists last month.

The Environmental Impact Report “is a document that was prepared under a very tight time schedule, and it’s possible we missed something,” Oggins said in a telephone interview. “We feel that we had addressed the technical information in that (USGS) document, but now we are reevaluating that.

“We now have a copy of that report and we are revising the draft [EIR],” he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s 17-page list of questions was sent by the Coast Guard’s chief environmental assessment officer to BHPB’s U.S. headquarters in Houston last February, shortly after the time limits for evaluation of BHPB’s environmental permits were suspended due to the incomplete data.

The questions deal with data gaps in the Australian company’s application to tether a floating liquefied natural gas storage and regasification ship, called Cabrillo Port, in federal waters 13.8 miles off Malibu’s western end. LNG is natural gas that is chilled to 260 degrees below zero so it liquefies, allowing it to be shipped by tanker. It is then “cooked” or regasified to expand to its natural state and then, if BHPB is allowed to build its port, would be piped onshore to Oxnard through undersea pipelines.

Some of the questions are as basic as confusion over how large the floating ship actually would be. Other questions are highly technical, including requests for additional detailed earthquake, tsunami and undersea landslide studies requested by the U.S. Geological Survey and by a Malibu resident, Kraig Hill, whose comprehensive analysis of the plant was cited in the USCG letter.

A review of what federal officials term a “data gap” indicates they are particularly concerned with BHPB’s estimation of the amount of smog generated by the terminal, its natural gas cooking boilers and the LNG tankers that would tie up next to it.

Other information is sought about constructing and keeping safe the twin undersea pipelines that will cross “suspected active” earthquake faults between the offshore LNG terminal and Ormond Beach near Oxnard, where they would come ashore.

The Malibu Times repeatedly requested from BHP Billiton a copy of the list of questions from the Coast Guard. The newspaper obtained the list from a senior Coast Guard official after he said they were probably subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Not included in the Coast Guard letter are any questions related to security or possible terrorism acts against the floating storage tanks. Local coastal advocates have said the 11-story-high, highly compressed gas storage tanks, and the floating ovens in which the deeply frozen pressurized liquid is cooked to room temperature, would be a target for terrorists.

The Coast Guard’s list of more than 100 complex questions includes projected smog emissions. The Coast Guard said Billiton did not include idling LNG carrier ships in its calculations of smog generation.

Local authorities say idling ships burning smoky bunker oil are the largest source of air pollution in the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara areas.

The Coast Guard also asks if large amounts of ammonia that will be emitted at the floating plant will be detectable downwind on local beaches.

Malibu Mayor Andy Stern, who has been actively watching the EIR process, said the Coast Guard questions prove that the safety planning for the proposed LNG tanks and warming oven to be tethered off the Malibu coast is deficient. “We’ve asked many questions about the EIR,” he said.

“My concern is for the safety of our residents, and I’ve had no assurances that this LNG project would be safe,” he said.

The Coast Guard has dozens of questions about how BHPB will drill 20 miles of twin pipelines without degrading the undersea and beach environment. It also asks how the pipelines and floating gas depot will be insured, and how emergencies will be handled.

The Coast Guard wants to know how the additional LNG tankers will mix in with the hundreds of cargo ships that use nearby traffic lanes, and how the floating depot or LNG carriers will be handled if they become adrift or aground.

The Coast Guard also had numerous questions regarding noise levels from the LNG facility.

Lighting and daytime views of the 11-story-high offshore structure are also a subject of USCG questions. The letter asks for day and night photo simulations from high elevations at several locations, including Decker Canyon Road above Pacific Coast Highway, and information about how the ship’s lights will be shielded.

K for outdoor movie equipment. Opening of farmer’s market is stalled as Cornucopia seeks permit.

By Jonathan Friedman

Assistant Editor

After much debate, the City Council on Monday approved the $23 million budget for the 2005-06 fiscal year, with $14.9 million allocated for general fund uses and the remaining total for capital projects.

The budget was not easily approved as the usually agreeable council spent significant time debating whether to approve the purchase of equipment to show outdoor movies in Malibu, while eliminating some of the money designated toward Malibu Coastal Vision.

Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich proposed to her peers that the city invest $50,000 to purchase equipment to show outdoor movies. Wallace Theaters, owner of the New Malibu Theater (which was closed due to the Cross Creek Fire and may not reopen for more than a year), had proposed to show outdoor films on the weekends during the summer at Bluffs Park beginning this weekend. But that plan fell through when it was decided it was not financially feasible. Conley Ulich said the city should involve itself to make outdoor movie screening possible because of the importance of having things to do for Malibu youth, despite this investment meaning the city would have to make budget cuts elsewhere.

“Everyone’s belt is tight right now, but this is a need that we have to address,” Conley Ulich said.

The council voted to spend $30,000 on the theater equipment. David Lyons, the former vice president of concessions and marketing at Wallace Theaters who is currently working as a consultant for the company, said he would look into how Wallace could pay the remaining sum. A meeting was expected to take place on Tuesday with City Manager Katie Lichtig, Lyons and The Malibu Times publisher Karen Portugal York on a possible joint venture project to show outdoor movies. The proposal is to begin with showing non-first-run (newly released theatrical) films. Lyons said first-run film screening could be a future option.

Malibu Coastal Vision, the city-funded nonprofit group that is working to create a long-range vision plan for the city through community meetings and research, was hit the hardest from the council’s approval for the theater equipment, with $30,000 of the $90,000 it expected to receive next fiscal year being eliminated. The council decided to take away $15,000 that was designated for the Coastal Vision Web site and another $15,000 that was designated for a fundraising effort. However, the council does not control Coastal Vision’s budget, so it could rearrange its priorities and use money designated for other purposes to cover Web site and fundraising costs.

Mayor Pro Tem Ken Kearsley, the biggest supporter on the council for Coastal Vision, opposed the cuts.

“To rob Peter to pay Paul is not the way to run a city,” Kearsley said.

Kearsley also opposed purchasing the theater equipment, saying, “Do we really want to get into the business of movies? I just can’t see it [working] in a city where the people have 52-inch screens and can slip a DVD in and invite their friends.”

Kearsley was the only one on the council who voted against cutting the money designated for the Coastal Vision Web site. Councilmember Jeff Jennings joined him in voting against cutting the money for the fundraising. Jennings said in an interview on Tuesday that he hopes Coastal Vision could raise money for its project, and taking away money from its fundraising efforts would be contrary to that goal.

In response to the council’s decision, Coastal Vision head Rich Davis wrote in a letter to The Malibu Times, “We are disappointed with the City Council’s decision to reduce our funding. We will need to rethink and possibly modify our process as a result, but we remain committed to ensuring that Malibuites shape the future of Malibu.”

The council also voted to increase the city’s contribution to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District from the proposed $139,834 to $294,834, the same amount it gave in the current fiscal year. With no money available from the general fund to pay for this, the council dipped into its $2.4 million fund set aside for construction of a city-owned City Hall. If there were a major disaster in the city, the money would be returned to Malibu.

Farmer’s Market stalled

During the meeting, Remy O’Neil from the Cornucopia Foundation, which runs the Malibu Farmers’ Market, asked that the process be accelerated for Cornucopia to obtain the necessary permit to operate the market. The market was supposed to have opened in April, but cannot until a solution to a zoning issue is found. It was discovered last year that the Civic Center property where Cornucopia holds its weekly market was not zoned for commercial use. Cornucopia has since applied for an amendment to the city’s zoning code to allow it to operate the market.

City planner Raneika Brooks-McClain said in an interview on Tuesday that the city has hired a consultant to work on a solution, but the process has taken a while because the Planning Division is understaffed. She said city staff is looking at granting Cornucopia a temporary use permit to open the market while the zoning amendment issue is researched. A temporary use permit would need to be reviewed by several county agencies and circulated around the public for at least 32 days. However, it cannot be appealed.

O’Neil said in an interview on Tuesday that she understands the city is looking into granting the temporary use permit, but she is frustrated that the process appears to be “going on and on.”

Chili Cook-Off issues

City Manager Lichtig announced that the city is looking into several grants and other sources to raise the $25 million needed to purchase the Chili Cook-Off property. She said a consultant would have a proposal prepared for the council next month to go over plans to finance the purchase of the property and a wastewater/storm water treatment project.