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League of Women Voters forum brings balance of voices

By AMANDA SCOTT

Staff writer

About 250 residents attended a panel discussion earlier this week about Dominion Cove Point’s proposed expansion project at the Lusby terminal.

The St. John Vianney Family Life Center auditorium was at seating capacity, with others standing, for the two-hour League of Women Voters of Calvert County forum featuring several stakeholders in the proposed $3.8 billion liquefied natural gas exportation project. The LWV is a nonpartisan political organization that works to promote political responsibility through informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy, according to the league’s website.

The six presenters included Dominion Cove Point’s Vice President of LNG Operations Mike Frederick; Patuxent Riverkeeper and CEO Fred Tutman speaking on environmental concerns; University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Chesapeake Biological Laboratory Director Thomas Miller speaking about invasive species’ effects on the environment; Pace Global Energy Management Solutions and Consulting Services/Siemens Corp. Vice President Kenneth Beans, who provided an independent review of the project for purposes of the forum; Commander Scott Kelly, chief of the Prevention Department at Coast Guard Sector Baltimore, who spoke about tanker safety, inspections and traffic; and Calvert County Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) speaking on the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners’ role and the possible economic effects of the project.

Frederick began the discussion Tuesday night by saying, “When we’re in a community, we’re part of the community. We take it very serious, both from a community involvement perspective and from an environmental perspective.” He said Dominion Cove Point’s employees also live in the community, so Dominion is concerned about the safety and quality of life in Calvert.

After briefly explaining that the company is requesting to install liquefaction equipment at its Lusby terminal and two gas-fired turbines to power the new equipment, he began addressing several of the community’s concerns, including emissions and noise level.

The exhaust heat from the turbines is being recycled to drive steam turbines to generate additional electricity for the plant.

“We believe we’re the only facility of its kind in the U.S., maybe in the world, that’s actually doing that step,” Frederick said.

Bean said during his presentation that he can confirm that there almost is nobody else in the liquefaction industry that “bothers to recover the waste heat.” In addition, the emissions from the gas turbines are “pretty predictable,” and the technology today has made that equipment “more efficient” so they create less pollution.

In addition, Frederick said the company is purchasing emissions offsets “in areas that can contribute to air pollution here in Southern Maryland, so we’re buying the offsets to help the air here.”

Beans said the effects “are really well within the government regulations, from what I can see, looking at the air permit application. … It looks like quite a margin in terms of what’s coming out of the [proposed] plant versus what’s allowed by the [Environmental Protection Agency] regulations, which are very stringent.”

When it comes to the type, quantity and disposal of the impurities that are removed from the gas for the liquefaction process, Frederick said he would love to tell everyone about what is removed, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission classified that information as not for public dissemination for safety reasons.

In order to operate, Frederick said the proposed facility must comply with FERC’s 55 decibel noise limit at receptor sites around the property.

Addressing safety concerns, Frederick said there are “safety systems monitored by safety systems and, in some cases, triple systems.” If an incident were to occur, he said, the effect would remain on site. So far, Dominion has sent about 20 members of the county’s volunteer fire departments and rescue squads to special LNG training.

One of the major safety concerns about the plant has been about fires and explosions, but Bean said facilities of this nature must comply with the National Fire Protection Association Standard, “which specifies how you have to evaluate the safety of a facility using LNG.” The flammable gases — propane and ethane — that are used for refrigeration are “pretty commonly handled materials,” Bean said.

“There are certain accident scenarios, you know if a fire occurs, you know there are certain fire protection systems, phone systems. There’s containment systems if the LNG leaks to contain the liquid so that it doesn’t pull offsite,” Bean said.

Bean said his assessment of the project, which includes a checklist of issues, risks and unknowns, is that “it passes all my criteria.”

For the past several months, there has been a push from resident and environmental groups for FERC to conduct an environmental impact statement instead of or in addition to the environmental assessment.

“There’s an extensive review that’s been going on,” Frederick said, citing the 21,000-page EA that FERC is in the process of conducting on the project. “Here’s how detailed it is: The [additional] 75 permanent jobs [after the project is completed], we have to estimate the emissions from those vehicles. That’s part of what we file. So, the idea that it’s not a thorough review is just not true.”

On the other end of the spectrum, as an environmental steward, Tutman said, “The implications — if you look holistically — if you look at the full breadth of the possible implications of this project, they really stretch far and beyond Calvert County.” Tutman cited the two offsite areas, including a pier in Solomons for large equipment to be barged in and the removal of 96.9 acres of undeveloped forest in Lusby for parking and equipment lay-down area.

Kelly, who spoke on behalf of the U.S. Coast Guard, addressed concerns of ship traffic and safety.

As vessels come within 200 nautical miles of the U.S., they must comply with the North America Emissions Control Act of 2012, he said. If the ships don’t comply, Kelly said the Coast Guard can hold them accountable with civil penalties, detaining them, and when any of the company’s vessels come to any U.S. port again they will be targeted for evaluation. In addition, the Baltimore port is in a pilot program with the EPA for testing ship air emissions.

All tankers undergo inspections in which all safety, cargo and navigation systems are tested. The crew is also tested, and drills are run, Kelly said. As an additional safety measure, he said all LNG tankers are escorted in U.S. water.

Any ballast water exchanges must occur 200 nautical miles outside of the U.S., he said, adding that the industry currently is working on new regulations and technology to decrease the possibility of invasive species entering U.S. waterways.

Miller focused his presentation on the effects of invasive species, saying, “These species can have dramatic — and what is important — largely irreversible impacts on the ecosystem in which they are introduced.”

The resilience of the Chesapeake Bay and its estuary suggests, he said, that some of the local effects of the construction likely are something that the ecosystem recovers from “fairly rapidly, but that does not mean that the estuary ecosystem, the whole collection of species, is by itself resilient.”

Miller said invasive species come in ballast water and attached to the hulls of ships and “the risk of those in terms of economic cost and environmental cost, should they be established, is substantial, and I do not think the risks should be assumed to be trivial.”

Recently, the county commissioners have been criticized for their lack of participation in the process and not supporting the demand for an environmental impact statement — and that’s exactly what Clark said he wanted to address.

“I’ve gotten emails from people saying that we’re allowing them to buy us. ... But that just irks me tremendously bad ’cause that’s not the case,” he said. “… If we come across something that we feel is going to damage the environment or be detrimental to anybody or anything, we’re gonna stop and make it fixed.”

Clark had the audience picture Calvert County before the utilities (Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant and the LNG facility) were constructed. He described the county as “probably one of the dirt poorest counties in the state” with a school system that “was in shambles.” And today, he said, “We have the highest-paid teachers in the state of Maryland. We have the top-ranked school system in the state of Maryland. We have preserved 30,000 acres of agriculture property for the benefit of the citizens that live in Calvert County. We have provided tax credits for older folks that qualify for it. We also have provided tax credit for land trusts and conservation groups that preserve property that’s out there now. … I would be willing to debate and suggest to anyone that we wouldn’t have them things if it wasn’t for Calvert County’s ability to embrace and work with large utilities to make them safe and make them work in our community.”

ascott@somdnews.com