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New York Times: Fundamentally Unsound: Shell TransCanada Broadwater project

Op-Ed Contributor
Published: February 18, 2007
Pound Ridge, N.Y.

NO one is surprised when environmental groups object to big development projects. But when independent scientists, state agencies and even the federal government raise serious questions about a project, it’s time to stop and reconsider.

The project is the proposal by Broadwater Energy, a partnership of the Shell Oil Company and TransCanada Corporation, to build a huge, floating liquefied natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound. And the only conclusion one can come to after reading what scientists and government agencies say about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s study of the environmental impact of the project is that it’s time to declare a do-over.

So many flaws, omissions and mistakes have been found in the commission’s draft environmental statement that a full-blown supplement, complete with public review, hearings and written comments, is the only way those of us who live near the Sound will be able to determine if the project is acceptable or an environmental disaster.

There’s a precedent for doing a supplement statement: about 20 years ago, the Coast Guard was conducting the environmental review of a proposal to build 2,000 luxury condominiums on Davids Island, off New Rochelle. The draft impact statement was so inadequate that the Coast Guard issued a supplemental study, which added about a year to the review process — and led ultimately to the project’s demise.

And this project is much larger and much more unusual. Broadwater wants to build and moor a floating terminal in New York’s portion of the Sound, about 9 miles north of Riverhead, N.Y., and 10 miles south of Branford. Every few days, tankers would bring in cooled liquefied natural gas, which would be converted back to a gas at the terminal and sent through pipelines to energy markets in the Northeast. The terminal would be about a quarter-mile long.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission began working on the environmental impact statement about a year ago and released its draft late last year for public review, declaring that the project would not have a negative affect on the environment.

Predictably, environmental groups say that Broadwater’s terminal is a disaster for the Sound, while business groups say it is essential to keeping energy costs under control. But what is unusual — and devastating — about the impact statement is that scientists and government agencies are virtually unanimous in declaring it inadequate.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Environmental Protection Agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the New York State Office of General Services and Department of Environmental Conservation, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and the Connecticut Liquefied Natural Gas Task Force all argue that there’s simply not enough information and rigorous analysis in the impact study to decide if the environmental impact of the project outweighs the benefits.

Ralph Lewis, the former Connecticut state geologist and a geology professor at the University of Connecticut, has called the study’s analysis mediocre. He likened it to an undergraduate term paper that would earn a C-minus.

The National Marine Fisheries Service said, for example, that safety zones surrounding the terminal and the tankers would make the publicly owned waters of the Sound off-limits to fishermen. But, the service said, the analysis of how this would affect the fishermen was inadequate.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service noted that when the terminal and tankers draw in cooling water from the Sound, they will probably destroy 275 million fish larvae and fish eggs a year, and that a more detailed analysis was needed. It also said the impact statement inadequately examined the effects on endangered species and migrating birds.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wrote that “it is premature for us to make final project recommendations until the necessary information becomes available.” And the Environmental Protection Agency said there was “insufficient information” to judge air quality concerns.

Broadwater’s floating terminal would be the first of its kind in the United States. No one should take lightly this attempt to put a major industrial facility in the middle of the Sound, which Congress has declared to be an estuary of national significance. Advocates have weighed in. But when scientists and government officials make a compelling case that the environmental studies are just not good enough, then the study needs to be redone.

Tom Andersen is the author of “This Fine Piece of Water: An Environmental History of Long Island Sound.” and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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