Bay Journal

Gas export plant wins key federal approval

Dominion poised to build natural gas export facility at Cove Point

  • By Rona Kobell on September 30, 2014

A plan to put a liquefied natural gas export terminal in the Chesapeake Bay just overcame its last major hurdle.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last night announced it was giving Dominion Resources permission to site, construct and operate the Cove Point liquefied natural gas export plant on the shores of the Chesapeake in Lusby, Calvert County, MD.

The company will need to accept  conditions FERC has set forth, and tell FERC officials how it will implement its plans. But news of the approval seems to seal the deal for one of the most contentious projects in decades.

Dominion’s facility imported natural gas for nearly two decades, but it became nearly dormant as gas prices dropped here and rose in Europe and Asia. Suddenly, gas fracked in the Pennsylvania mountains became a viable fuel for people to burn in Japan and France. And, with Russia increasingly controlling the pipelines through Ukraine and threatening to turn off the taps or raise prices when it suited them, U.S. Senators demanded that American regulators speed up the approval process for these plants to get them online quick.

Even some environmentalists supported this idea, saying exporting gas was far better than exporting coal. Labor liked the idea, too, as the new Cove Point facility will cost $3.8 billion to build and will employ skilled tradesmen.

But the opposition was deep as well: neighbors argued that one road in and one road out made Cove Point a poor choice for a major operation that involved hazardous chemicals and a process that could lead to fires. Nearby residents worried about air quality.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s activists argued that shipping natural gas overseas was getting Americans far, far away from clean-energy goals. There were contentious hearings that lasted hours on whether the Maryland Public Service Commission should give Dominion a permit to build a power plant to run the facility and whether FERC should approve the license. Another concern came from scientists at the Chesapeake Biological lab on Solomon’s Island. There, some of the leading researchers on ballast water worried that more invasive species might enter the Chesapeake on the incoming gas tankers and cause billions of dollars in damage, as they have to the Great Lakes.

In contrast to  a vocal local opposition,  many locals supported the project, including the Calvert County Sheriff, who told the Bay Journal in a recent interview that the county’s emergency services staff was equipped to handle any challenges.

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About Rona Kobell

Rona Kobell is a former writer for the Baltimore Sun. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Read more articles by Rona Kobell

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