Since November 2004, when plans to construct a proposed 1,200-foot-long, 180-foot-wide floating liquefied natural gas terminal in the middle of the Long Island Sound were first unveiled, those for and against the $700 million project have acted like people looking at two different proposals, refusing to acknowledge any perspective but their own. And not a single wise man, or voice of reason, was within earshot until last month’s sudden and unexpected appointment of Governor David A. Paterson.
Unlike his predecessor, the disgraced Eliot Spitzer, Mr. Paterson afforded the Department of State the freedom to offer its own interpretation of the controversial application—the first floating liquefied natural gas platform ever approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Mr. Paterson allowed the experts to do their job. And the findings speak for themselves, much more clearly than any opinions that have been offered so far.
State regulatory officials took issue with the proposed industrialization of a natural resource in which millions of dollars have already been invested to preserve its health and sustainability. They determined that the project, proposed by Broadwater Energy Corporation, a partnership of TransCanada Corporation and Shell U.S. Gas, could pose a danger to wetlands, shellfish and eelgrass beds in the sound. They also recognized the inherent risks that come with having two to three tankers, each filled with supercooled liquefied natural gas, dock at a floating terminal each week.
They understood that the primary approach route to the sound for the tankers would have required that they travel between Montauk Point and Block Island, disrupting local boat traffic in the area. They also would run perilously close to the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and the Millstone nuclear plants in Connecticut.
Once docked, the tankers’ liquid cargo would be converted to gas at the offshore platform, another risky procedure, before being transported to points west via a pipeline that would have to be installed along the bed of the sound, disrupting marine ecosystems in the process.
The outspoken and most adamant of opponents, environmentalists and civic leaders, could see only the negatives of the proposed platform—its susceptibility to terrorist attack, its unsightliness, its threats to marine life. Some state officials preferred to focus on the potential positives: improved natural gas supply lines, potential savings for customers and minimal visual blight, as the platform would be constructed nine miles offshore.
In the end, state officials ruled that the cons far outweigh the pros, and rejected the platform because it does not adhere to New York’s coastal zone management plan. That plan governs how private entities, such as Broadwater Energy, can use the state’s coastal resources, which include Long Island Sound.
Rather than dismiss the application outright, state officials suggested that the proposed facility would be more acceptable if it were constructed at least 20 miles off the coast, out in the Atlantic. The state report, completed after 14 months of review, provides the applicant with three suggested sites off the coasts of New Jersey, New York City and Long Island.
Not to be forgotte is the fact that there are an estimated 40 similar projects, including both the land-based and offshore variety, that could be constructed in the United States over the next few years. This is not an all-or-nothing scenario. There are other, and better, options out there.