Coast Guard to Hold Meeting on California BHP Project

The U.S. Coast Guard will tomorrow be the first of a number of California and federal agencies to host public meetings in the state to consider whether to approve the construction of a BHP Billiton offshore liquefied natural gas terminal in California coastal waters.

The Coast Guard meeting starts a clock for final state and federal approval of the project in which California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has 45 days to sign off on the proposal and the U.S. Maritime Administration has 90 days to render a final decision.

The California State Lands Commission and the California Coastal Commission also must approve the project within those set deadlines. The California State Lands Commission will host its public hearing next week to consider approving permits for pipelines to move the LNG onshore. The California Coastal Commission will hold its public hearing April 12 to decide on the narrow issue of whether the project conforms to state and federal coastal protection laws.

BHP Billiton wants to import Australian LNG to the proposed $800-million offshore facility where it will be regasified and stored for transport via an undersea pipeline to a natural gas utility pipeline near Ormond Beach.

According to the final environmental impact report that the U.S. Coast Guard, California State Lands Commission and the U.S. Maritime Administration released last month, the terminal would adversely affect regional air quality, ocean views and marine life. It would produce 219 tons of ozone-forming emissions and 25 tons of smoke per day, which would make it one of the largest polluters in the region (Greenwire, March 12).

California State Lands Commission Executive Officer Paul Thayer said that, despite the project deficiencies identified by his agency in the EIS, he would urge the commission to approve the project because California needs more diverse energy sources.

But the California Coastal Commission objected to the project in a report released yesterday, saying that it would produce too much air pollution, harm sea life and contribute to global warming. Coastal Commission officials said that they want BHP to use natural gas to fuel the tankers that will transport the LNG from Australia to California to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. BHP has said that it would prefer to switch its LNG transport tankers' fuel to natural gas within 24 miles of the California coast (Gary Polakovic, Los Angeles Times, April 3).

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