The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is invoking secrecy rules to allow a closed-door conference on Sound Energy Solutions' controversial liquefied natural gas terminal proposal. Only government agencies and intervenors will be allowed to attend the July 14 technical conference in Long Beach, and they must sign nondisclosure agreements in advance-much to the consternation of the California Public Utilities Commission and local opponents. "We don't know if this conference should or should not be closed because we don't know what the agenda is," said Harvey Morris, CPUC principal counsel. He and others agree with FERC that information that involves security issues should not be made public, but they fear the application of the secrecy rules will keep the public in the dark about nonconfidential matters that could affect health and safety. "I am concerned about terrorism myself," said Bry Myown, spokesperson for Long Beach Citizens for Utility Reform and intervenor. She is more concerned, however, about information blackouts that are keeping her from obtaining data about potential threats. The biggest fear is the risk of a terrorist attack on an LNG ship in or outside the port of Los Angeles. The dangers from frozen gas spilled from an LNG tanker with a hole punched in it, including the resulting vapor clouds, have been the subject of recent studies under debate (<i>Circuit<\/i>, June 4, 2004). Robert MacFarlane, former security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, insists that LNG poses less risk than other fuel sources in use today. "Clearly, LNG is an imperative for our country, " he told Circuit. "The threat posed by terrorists to an LNG facility is probably less than that at other fuel storage areas." MacFarlane, a principal at Energy & Communication Solutions in Washington, D.C., added he did not see the removal of volatile gases, such as propane, from the imported gas as increasing public risk but declined to explain. In addition to excluding the public, another point of contention is that the FERC proceeding is not being transcribed or recorded. Thus, if the facility "is shown to be unsafe, there will be no evidence in the record, which will deprive us of meaningful, effective judicial review," according to Morris. FERC provided only a generic rationale for its plans to shut out the public, saying that its months-old Critical Energy Infrastructure Information rules are the basis for keeping material from "getting in the wrong hands that can do harm." As to the focus of the technical conference, FERC spokesperson Tamara Allan-Young would say only that "it is to explore the design of facilities that will involve super-cold LNG." FERC and the CPUC have been involved in a jurisdictional feud over siting Mitsubishi subsidiary Sound Energy Solutions' LNG terminal. FERC asserts it has sole say under its authority to regulate foreign commerce. Last month, federal regulators denied rehearing petitions by the CPUC and others. The state commission is expected to decide July 8 whether to file suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals. The CPUC may also vote at that time on whether to reject Sound Energy's request to stay a state investigation of the project. Expectations of federal and state regulators are that the court will resolve the jurisdictional dispute. "Let's get to an LNG world as soon as we can, but safely and while addressing environmental concerns," Morris said. The crux of the battle is the wisdom of siting a potentially explosive facility in a densely populated region, and who decides which course is wisest. Out of 40 proposed terminals that would reconstitute extremely chilly gas, only three are near heavily populated regions: Long Beach, Boston, and Mobile, Alabama. Amendments made to the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act in 1979 urge siting LNG in remote locations. In the 1970s, when federal and state regulators were considering siting an LNG facility at Point Conception, which faced strong local opposition, the meetings were open to the public. There will be a July 13 visit to the Long Beach site open to the public, but Allan-Young noted there would be no discussions, and public comments would not be accepted at that time.