BHP Billiton LNG Terminal Faces Growing Opposition

By Published On: March 16, 2007

Final permit action on BHP Billiton’s proposed Cabrillo Port liquefied natural gas terminal could come before the end of April. The project off the Ventura County coast faces a growing legion of opponents concerned about air pollution and safety issues. The developer, however, says it plans to mitigate environmental concerns. With the ocean as their backdrop, lawmakers, movie stars, and local officials lined up at a March 10 press conference in Malibu to denounce the project as bad for the environment and the state’s energy future. They voiced their opposition just one day after a state and a federal agency issued the final environmental impact report and set dates for what may be the last public hearings on the proposed terminal. “We need to stop this LNG terminal because it’s the wrong direction for California,” said Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), chair of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee. He called on the state instead to pursue an energy strategy that “looks greener, cleaner, and renewable.” Levine pledged that he would try to convince Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to disapprove of the project. Joined by Assemblymembers Julia Brownley (D-Agoura Hills) and Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), as well as Malibu City Council member Andy Stern and actors Pierce Brosnan and Martin Sheen, Levine renounced his earlier support for the facility. Stern threatened that the city of Malibu would sue to stop the LNG terminal if it is approved (Circuit, April 21, 2006). The governor must make a recommendation to the federal government on whether to permit the terminal, which is planned 14 miles off the Ventura County coast. Under the federal Deepwater Port Act, he has 45 days to make that recommendation to the federal Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard after the agencies have held their final hearing on the proposal, which is slated for April 4 in Oxnard. The State Lands Commission will hold a hearing April 9 in Oxnard to consider leasing state land for the pipeline to connect the proposed offshore terminal to the onshore natural gas distribution network. The growing concern about the project revolves around emissions of air pollutants and the potential for an accident on the water that could harm recreational and commercial craft. Some environmentalists had earlier been sympathetic to the offshore terminal because it is expected to have far less impact on urban populations than onshore LNG receiving facilities. Thus, this high-profile change of heart marked a new level of resistance to liquefied natural gas facilities in the state. The final environmental impact report issued March 11 said the proposed terminal would contribute to ozone pollution onshore from both the floating terminal itself and the incoming LNG ships. Generators used to power the terminal and other equipment would emit 75.5 tons a year of nitrogen oxides and 12.6 tons of particulate matter, according to the environmental report. Ships each year would emit 84.4 tons of nitrogen oxides and 4.1 tons of particulate matter. The company scaled back the annual number of scheduled deliveries of LNG from up to 130 to between 65 and 99, resulting in reduced estimates of ship emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that the company does not need to offset the emissions from the facility, which drew the ire of Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) last week (Circuit, March 9, 2007). Waxman asked the agency to provide Congress with documents justifying its position. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) also pressed the federal agency in a March 9 letter to explain its position, charging that it was based on “lobbying from BHP Billiton.” However, a BHP Billiton spokesperson said the company already has agreed to “mitigate” the pollution impacts that its facility would cause onshore. The final environmental report details an additional mitigation measure to which BHP Billiton has agreed. Under the measure, the company would replace the engines on two tugboats that regularly operate in the area with new ones that emit less. The California Air Resources Board estimates that engine replacement would cut the nitrogen oxide emissions from the tugs by 165.5 tons a year – more than the 159.9 tons a year of nitrogen oxides that BHP Billiton’s terminal would emit. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the cleaner tugboat engines would cut emissions less, by just 116.6 tons a year. While an accident at the facility would pose no hazard onshore, the environmental report shows that under a worst-case analysis, such as an intentional attack on the terminal, a vapor cloud “flash” fire could extend 7.2 miles. Weapons or an airplane would be required to trigger such a large fire. If the project is approved, it likely will become the second liquefied natural gas import terminal providing natural gas to California. It would provide up to 15 percent of the state’s gas, which the company would import from its home nation of Australia. Meanwhile, Sempra Energy is constructing a liquefied natural gas terminal in Baja California, which will be able to send gas to California. It is expected to open in 2008. Meanwhile, Chevron has dropped a plan to build an LNG terminal off the shore of Baja California near the Coronado Islands south of San Diego. Environmental groups had contested the plan because of the facility’s potential impacts on wildlife habitat on the desertlike islands. A company spokesperson said Chevron will market the gas it had planned to bring there to Japan instead.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now