When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he would veto BHP Billiton’s Cabrillo Port project a few weeks ago, effectively ending the Australian energy firm’s push to install a massive floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal off the coast of Ventura County, those who had fought against the company for four years breathed a long delayed sigh of relief.
But in disapproving Cabrillo Port, Schwarzenegger also reiterated his support for LNG, stating that the relatively clean-burning fuel “can and must be an important addition to California’s energy portfolio.”
Now, not even a month after the governor’s veto, the next LNG project proposed for local waters is appearing on the horizon: NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc.’s Clearwater Port.
The project suggests converting Platform Grace, an oil and gas platform 13 miles off the Oxnard coast, into an LNG receiving terminal. About three tankers per week would deliver the super-cooled gas to the terminal, where Ambient Air Vaporizers (AAV) would re-gasify the fuel by exposing it to warm offshore winds. It would then be distributed to homes and businesses through an existing undersea pipeline system owned by SoCal Gas.
According to Joe Desmond, senior vice president of external affairs for NorthernStar, the use of an existing infrastructure and AAV technology, as well as a lack of onsite gas storage, will minimize Clearwater Port’s effect on the environment.
“We have always anticipated that California has high standards with respect to marine life and the impact on air quality,” he said. “[Clearwater Port] is designed to ensure it has minimal impact and accurately represents the use of Best Available Control technology.”
While Desmond denies the company observed BHP Billiton’s experience as an example of what not to do, he did say the State Lands Commission and Coastal Commission’s votes against Cabrillo Port “provided very valuable reference points” for certain aspects of the Clearwater project. Three days prior to Schwarzenegger’s decision, NorthernStar released a statement promising a “voluntary commitment to meet local air rules” by refusing to request the permitting agencies consider Clearwater Port under less stringent offshore regulations associated with the Channel Islands — unlike BHP Billiton, which was granted a controversial exemption from stricter onshore regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center, said she is “pleased” NorthernStar will not pursue a similar designation but added the company should not be applauded for simply doing what is required of them.
“They’re not volunteering for anything. Compliance with the law is mandatory,” she said.
Because Clearwater Port has not yet entered the environmental review stage, Krop said she could not comment specifically on the project’s impact. But, she said, “we don’t think we need LNG for the state, period.”
At the moment, Krop said the more pressing issue for LNG opponents to rally around is Senate Bill 412, a measure calling for a statewide LNG needs assessment to determine how many facilities California needs, if any.
Desmond said NorthernStar has been working with the bill’s authors, making recommendations “to help California consumers, particularly in the area of transparency and utilization.” He said the state already imports 87 percent of its natural gas, and because natural gas is a deregulated market, “prices are set by supply and demand, and the more supply brings down the price pressure.” And because NorthernStar would not own the gas it would be supplying, the company has “no vested interest in seeing the price go high,” Desmond said.
Work on the Clearwater Port environmental impact report is projected to begin in the fall, Desmond said.
“We are confident that as we move through the process and people have a chance to evaluate and ask questions that at the end of the day, we’ll have a proposal that will hopefully be supported in the application process,” he said.