Opponents rally against LNG facility

The three tanker Cabrillo Port would receive natural gas from Australia tankers that carry the fuel in compressed liquid form.

Those in favor of the Cabrillo Port liquefied natural gas facility’s installation say it will bring a better source of energy and jobs to the area. Opponents say the facility is dangerous.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

More than 100 people crowded into Webster Elementary School Dec. 1 to comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the liquefied natural gas facility proposed to be constructed off the coast of Oxnard, near Malibu.

Although some of the people in attendance favored the facility as a way to bring a more efficient energy source to the area, most were opposed to a facility they called dangerous and prone to terrorist attacks.

Australian-based BHP Billiton has proposed building an LNG facility called the Cabrillo Port about 14 miles off the coast of the Ventura/Los Angeles County line, about 15 miles north of Malibu. The Cabrillo Port would receive natural gas from Australian tankers that carry the fuel in compressed liquid form. The gas would be vaporized and pumped through a network of pipes. Opponents of Cabrillo’s installation say that if a disaster were to occur at the port, it would threaten the lives of everybody in the area, although the draft EIR says it would not affect people living in Malibu.

The Dec. 1 meeting was the second hearing heard on the draft EIR. Another one took place in Oxnard on Nov. 30, with 400 people attending. Included among them were 150 protestors who came to the hearing early to rally. They wore anti-LNG buttons and held up signs with messages of dissent.

Those speaking at the Dec. 1 hearing against Cabrillo included Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern. He said in a telephone interview after the meeting that his major reason for opposing the port is safety concerns. Stern said he does not accept the draft EIR’s conclusion that an LNG explosion would not affect Malibu residents. “To my knowledge they are gambling with our safety with new technology,” Stern said. “If they want to build this facility, they can do it where there aren’t any people.”

Those speaking in favor of the facility said it would help to bring down California’s high energy costs. They said LNG was a safe, clean and reliable source of energy that would mitigate many of the energy problems in California. A representative from the Australian government also attended the meeting. He said the port would bring new jobs to this area and to Australia. “I couldn’t care less about the jobs it will bring,” Stern said in response. “I only care about the safety issues.”

Officials from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Maritime Administration and the California State Lands Commission conducted the Oxnard and Malibu hearings. Comments from the hearings were collected for the drafting of the final EIR. Written comments are also being accepted until Dec. 20. Next year, the final EIR will be released. Then another series of hearings will be conducted prior to a final decision by the federal government on whether to approve the facility.

There is currently a dispute about who has the authority to give final approval for LNG facilities, the states or the federal government. Recently, officials from several states were infuriated because hidden in the year-end federal spending bill expected to clear Congress this week was a statement that federal regulators should decide where liquefied natural gas terminals are built. But since the Cabrillo Port is proposed to be in federal-controlled waters, there is no dispute on who has the authority. Houston-based Crystal Energy has proposed the development of another LNG facility near the Malibu coast. But unlike the Cabrillo Port, this one would not be built from scratch. Instead, it would be transformed from an already existing oil platform called Grace. The announcement of the proposal has inspired the creation of an opposition group called Citizens Against Crystal Energy.

The Malibu City Council passed a resolution earlier this year in oppositi on to all offshore LNG facilities because of the alleged dangers they present to the residents.