By Linda Krop and Shiva Polefka. Linda Krop is Chief Counsel for the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), a non-profit public interest law firm in Santa Barbara, California. Shiva Polefka is EDC's Marine Conservation Analyst. EDC currently represents the California Coastal Protection Network in opposition to the Cabrillo Port proposal. Note: Linda Krop will be speaking Sunday, March 4 on a panel at the University of Oregon School of Law on legal strategies to fight LNG projects.
Back in the late 1970's, a corporate energy consortium lead by California's Pacific Gas and Electric proposed building a liquefied natural gas (LNG) importation terminal on undeveloped land sacred to the Chumash Indians near Point Conception, west of Santa Barbara, California. The project proposed to receive natural gas extracted from Indonesia, then, like all LNG, chilled to -260°F into its liquid form, and then tankered across the Pacific. Upon arrival in California this liquid was to be re-warmed (or "regasified") to its original state, before being piped to consumers and power plants. At the time, the project proponents assured the public that, despite the safety risks and environmental and cultural impacts involved, California consumers had no choice but to allow their project in order to avert a natural gas crisis and statewide economic ruination. As it turns out, we didn't need this imported gas and the project was withdrawn following enormous public opposition. Today, Southern California is better off environmentally and culturally for having rejected the dangerous and faulty Point Conception LNG proposal.
Unfortunately, West Coast residents - from Baja; to North Bend, Oregon; to British Columbia (pdf) - are now hearing the same hollow arguments again, as corporations and investment moguls line up to cash in on what they hope to be the next hydrocarbon rush. Furthest along in California's permitting process is Australian mining behemoth BHP Billiton, which wants to anchor an $800 million floating terminal to receive and process LNG for the next 40 or more years. BHP Billiton is once again trying to assure the public that need is dire for their fossil fuel, such that the profound impacts LNG will cause to Southern California's air and water quality, marine wildlife, public safety and the global climate should be ignored.
In Oregon, corporations like Portwestward, Northern Star, Fort Chicago and LNG Development Co. are echoing these arguments for their dangerous and destructive proposals in Coos Bay, Astoria, and along the Columbia River. According to these speculators, the West Coast supposedly needs foreign LNG to avert economic crisis, and that this "clean" fuel will serve as a "bridge" to a renewable energy future.
Before we buy into these recycled arguments and allow LNG to lock us in to further dependence on foreign fossil fuels, it's critical that we take a hard look at the environmental costs. Adding them up reveals a bad deal for Oregon, for California, and the rest of the West Coast...
- LNG terminals impact their surroundings by taking in millions and even billions of gallons of river or seawater for ballasting, LNG processing, and engine cooling, killing plankton, fish and invertebrates that form the base of aquatic foodwebs.
- The terminals often have to burn immense quantities of diesel and natural gas to power their LNG processing activities, which results in commercial power plant-scale air pollution and causes environmental degradation and impacts to human health.
- The risk of accidents at LNG terminals represents an extremely high-stakes threat to public safety. According to an environmental impact report for the Cabrillo Port, the human safety "hazard zone" for a LNG "vapor cloud fire" (a scenario in which a major leak or spill of the liquid is ignited) reaches more than 7 miles from the terminal.
More importantly, the vast size of individual LNG terminals, the extra processing required to transport the fuel from distant shores, and their multi-decade operating permits mean that each one represents a massive new long-term commitment to greenhouse gas emissions. Cabrillo Port alone, for example, could annually emit more than 5% (pdf) of California's 1990 statewide carbon output! As of January 2007, atmospheric carbon was measured at nearly 384 parts per million, 37% higher than the pre-industrial average (280ppm). At a time when it is more important than ever that we reduce, not expand, our contribution to global warming, allowing these huge terminals would be an irresponsible and dangerous step away from climate stability.
Fortunately, many opportunities exist to further reduce our demand for natural gas, and make our domestic supplies go further. Replacing outdated power plants with higher efficiency, combined-cycle facilities, reducing power consumption in our homes, businesses and towns through technological innovation, and revising our state and federal renewable energy policy to encourage aggressive construction of new wind, solar and biofuels facilities would reduce our gas demand and promote new high-tech businesses up and down the West Coast.
Let's choose to keep our energy spending dollars here at home, by choosing to invest in homegrown renewables. Let's choose a truly clean energy future, let's choose to keep the West Coast free of LNG.