On Monday, federal regulators approved construction of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Cove Point, Maryland. After two years of review and sustained pushback from concerned community members and environmental groups, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave Dominion Resources Inc. the go-ahead to begin construction as part of an existing LNG import facility in southern Maryland. The Richmond, Virginia-based company will now review the order, which includes 79 conditions the company must follow. In June, FERC had denied a request by several environmental groups and lawmakers to extend the comment period before making a decision.
The Cove Point LNG liquefaction and export project is the fourth LNG export terminal to receive approval in the U.S. to site, construct, and operate. It is the first such project on the east coast and the closest to the Appalachian-based Marcellus Shale, the largest natural gas producing region in the United States. The domestic shale gas boom, catalyzed by the proliferation of fracking, has increased natural gas supply and caused prices to drop. Until only a few years ago companies were looking to build LNG import, rather than export, terminals. The lay of the land has changed dramatically since then and Calvert County on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay embodies this shift.
While FERC conducted an Environmental Assessment determining that the $3.8-billion facility could be built safely with no significant impact to the environment, the opposition feels that FERC’s finding and subsequent approval are fundamentally flawed and that a more exhaustive Environmental Impact Statement was in order. They argue that the terminal, which will be able to export 5.75 million metric tons of LNG a year when fully operational, will incentivize environmental damage from fracking in the mid-Atlantic, and possibly contribute more to global warming over the next two decades than if the Asian countries where the gas is headed burned their own coal.
“FERC’s decision to approve Cove Point is the result of a biased review process rigged in favor of approving gas industry projects no matter how great the environmental and safety concerns,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, in a statement. “We intend to challenge this ruling all the way to court if necessary. For the safety of Marylanders and for people across our region facing new fracking wells and pipelines, we will continue to fight this project until it is stopped.”
In a call discussing the decision, Tidwell called the FERC review process “mostly secretive and detached.” He said Dominion has “repeatedly cut corners and ignored environmental and safety concerns.”
Tidwell pointed to a recent report from the DOE that found that when the full lifecycle of the LNG is considered — fracking process, transporting through leaky pipes, energy intensive liquefaction, tanker transportation to Asia, re-gasification, and electricity generation — it is almost certainly worse for the atmosphere than letting those countries burn their own coal.
The report found that the benefits of cleaner natural gas production can be offset by methane leaks from pipelines as well as the energy required to liquify and transport the LNG. Dominion plans to build a 130-megawatt power plant to meet the energy needs for liquefaction as well as dozens of miles of new gas pipelines. Cheaseapeake Climate Action Network found that the facility, if built, would become on of the state’s largest greenhouse gas producers, emitting more carbon dioxide than all but three of the state’s existing coal plants.