The Federal Energy Regulation Commission voted 5-0 last Friday to approve the Broadwater Energy liquefied-natural-gas terminal, overriding the protests from a group of local public officials who have been equally unanimous in their opposition.
Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell has publicly condemned construction of the terminals since she formed a task force to investigate Broadwater and the harmful environmental impact she alleges the project could have on Long Island Sound. New Haven Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, who have also spoken out against the project for legal reasons, joined her, contending that the project breaks environmental laws. But as Connecticut waits for New York’s final decision on the project, FERC officials have continued to defend their decision, arguing that they have concluded.
The proposed terminal — to be situated approximately 10 miles south of New Haven, in Long Island Sound — would provide both New York and Connecticut with natural oil. Administered by Shell Oil and the TransCanada Corporation, the barge-like terminal would be a floating storage regasification unit. There, oil tankers would deposit the liquefied natural gas before the gas is channeled through the Iroquois Gas Transmission System, a complex of pipelines already sitting beneath the sound.
Blumenthal, who has said he sees the issue as not just one of public welfare but also of legality, said last week he will fight the FERC’s ruling, “[going] to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”
“FERC’s decision to approve the environmental atrocity is ill-conceived, illogical and illegal,” Blumenthal said in a press release. “FERC never met an energy project it didn’t like. This decision epitomizes the administration’s lawless love for Big Energy projects, no matter how dangerous or destructive.”
Blumenthal said Broadway violated environmental laws by not also proposing more environmentally friendly and efficient possibilities.
Because the terminal would be located just on the New York side of the border with Connecticut, Broadwater does not need Connecticut’s approval.
FERC Chairman Joseph T. Kelliher countered that his organization has carried out a systematic investigation, finding the plan to meet the standards of the National Environmental Policy Act. In a statement released by the FERC on Friday, he said that in the past, FERC has turned away potentially profitable ventures deemed below safety standards.
“With respect to [liquified-natural-gas] terminals, we are first and foremost a safety agency,” Kelliher said in the statement. “We do not balance safety against need.”
Kelliher did not respond to messages left with his secretary Monday.
The Broadwater Web site maintains that the system will be economically efficient, estimating that the extra supply of oil will save most households an average of $300 per year and help reduce soaring oil prices.
But some activists in Connecticut and New York have expressed frustration with this view, saying the need for oil in the two states can be alleviated in less harmful ways.
Daniel Esty, a professor in both the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Law School, said citizens should be concerned about Broadwater “on a number of levels” and that the company should seek alternative designs for the project.
“I personally believe that natural gas is a good fuel source in New England,” he said. “But there is some concern here about what might get done during construction, and there is concern that during operation, spills might occur that would affect marine life. There is also a no-go zone around it, of substantial size, that will limit the recreational use of the Sound.”
In 2006 the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, through its Save the Sound campaign, commissioned an independent study of Broadwater by Synapse Energy Economics, an energy and environmental consulting firm from Cambridge, Mass. The study suggested several alternatives, including improvements to already-existing pipelines or the establishment of onshore liquefied-natural gas plants to supplement those that already exist in New England.
Before the Broadwater terminal can be built, both the U.S. Coast Guard and the New York Department of State need to issue their approval of the project. New York was slated to issue a decision by early April, but the recent changeover in the governor’s mansion — from Eliot Spitzer to David Paterson — has complicated that process.
While Spitzer never took a formal stance on Broadwater, Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the Long Island-based Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, has said that with three governors in three years, it has been a challenge to anticipate what the state will do.
“We’ve been sending hundreds of letters to Governor Paterson and 70 phone calls per week to his office,” Esposito said.