For the people who followed Australian energy giant BHP Billiton’s campaign to install a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal off the coast of Ventura County — a four-year-long battle the firm ultimately lost — the scene at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center on Oct. 3 was a familiar one. With another company proposing an LNG facility in local waters, residents turned out to voice their opinions on the new project to a panel representing the agencies that will eventually either approve or reject the plan. Once again, the majority of those voices opposed the idea.
Although the hearing was meant to gather public input for a draft environmental impact report (EIR), many speakers took the opportunity to express their displeasure with Houston-based NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc.’s proposal to convert Platform Grace, an oil and gas platform 13 miles off the Oxnard coast and roughly 10 miles from Ventura, into an LNG receiving terminal. About three tankers per week would deliver the super-cooled gas to the facility, renamed Clearwater Port, where it would be warmed back to its gaseous state and returned to shore through an existing undersea pipeline system, making landfall at the Reliant Energy plant at Mandalay Beach in Oxnard.
Critics of the project, several donning the blue anti-LNG shirts worn during the fight with BHP Billiton, delivered a litany of concerns to the panel, which was made up of representatives from the California State Lands Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard and the federal Maritime Administration. Some of the topics broached included noise levels, the onshore pipeline’s proximity to schools and the project’s impact on the nearby Channel Islands Marine National Sanctuary. Many suggested the EIR specifically address the threat the increased number of ships in the Santa Barbara Channel — a maximum of 139 per year, according to NorthernStar — pose to blue whales, as three have been killed in collisions with vessels in the channel in the past month.
Joe Desmond, senior vice president of external affairs for NorthernStar, said the hearing revealed there is “a lot of misinformation and mischaracterization of issues” regarding Clearwater Port. For example, he said, some speakers believed the terminal would be located within the marine sanctuary when it is actually several miles outside the protected area. He also contested the assertion that California does not need LNG at all, saying, “there is quite a bit of information in the public domain that talks about the need for natural gas.” He said NorthernStar supports Senate Bill 412, a measure calling for a statewide LNG needs assessment, which has stalled in the assembly. He also emphasized the company’s commitment to meeting Ventura County’s strict air quality restrictions and the project’s use of technology to minimize its impact on the local environment.
Overall, Desmond said many of the comments were similar to those heard during the BHP Billiton hearing process, and iterated his company’s dedication to working with the community on those issues.
Opponents, however, made clear their commitment to resisting the project.
“I spent four years fighting BHP’s project,” said Nancy Pedersen, a resident of Oxnard, at the afternoon session of the public hearing. “And I will fight this project with equal tenacity.”