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New York Times: Gas Plant Proposal Passes a Review

November 26, 2006

A FEDERAL agency’s finding that the proposed Broadwater Energy floating gas plant in Long Island Sound was needed and would have “limited adverse environmental impacts” has moved the plant closer to approval, but opponents of the project in New York and Connecticut continued to criticize it.

Broadwater, a partnership of the Shell Oil Company and the TransCanada Corporation, said that the finding, by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, was a significant advance for the $700 million project, which the company wants to put in operation by 2010. The platform, which would be moored in eastern Long Island Sound about 9 miles from Long Island and 11 miles from Connecticut, would be a terminal for liquefied natural gas.

“This is quite a step forward for the project, to say the least,” said John Hritcko Jr., Broadwater’s senior vice president.

In a draft environmental impact statement released on Nov. 17, the agency said that the main impacts during construction of a mooring yoke and a 25-mile underwater gas pipeline would be “physical disturbance of the seafloor and related turbidity of the water column.”

It said that once the plant was in operation, there would be “minor impacts to water quality, air quality, fisheries, recreational boating and fishing and commercial vessel traffic.” Visual impact would be minor to moderate, it said.

Public hearings on the environmental draft will be held in both states early next year. The agency could adopt a final version as early as mid-2007, Broadwater said.

Opponents said the draft minimized or overlooked the risks, costs and actual environmental impact of a project they say will industrialize the Sound, invite terrorist attack and be the untested first floating plant of its design and size in the country. The shiplike plant, the size of the Queen Mary II, would be entirely in New York waters.

In Connecticut, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman issued a statement that called the draft deeply flawed in making a preliminary finding that “Long Island Sound is an appropriate location for the construction of a massive liquefied natural gas terminal.”

The Connecticut attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, termed the draft a whitewash and called on New York officials to deny Broadwater’s request for mooring rights. Mr. Blumenthal said the project and tanker deliveries of liquefied natural gas would create security zones where public access was denied to the benefit of a private company.

In New York, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the governor-elect, has not taken a public position on the project despite the urgings of its opponents. New York’s senators, Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, have opposed it.

Representative Timothy H. Bishop, who is from Southampton and whose district includes eastern Long Island, criticized the agency’s finding.

“I’m not surprised a commission hand-picked by the president to make sure L.N.G. platforms are green-lighted chose to rubber-stamp this environmental review,” Mr. Bishop said.

A cross-Sound coalition of environmental groups opposed to the project also expressed no surprise.

“FERC never met an L.N.G. proposal it didn’t like,” said Leah Schmalz, the director of legislative and legal affairs for Save the Sound, in Norwalk, Conn.

Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, in Farmingdale, said the draft showed that the agency had ignored the public. “The draft reads like a fiction novel,” she said. “They didn’t even find one small thing wrong.”

Mr. Hritcko said the criticisms of the draft were inaccurate. “It’s a very detailed, objective review of the facts,” he said. “And it isn’t just FERC. It’d been done with a number of other federal and state agencies.”

The agency’s findings follow a Coast Guard report released Sept. 21 that found no unacceptable risks.

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