FERC to rethink approval of reactivating Cove Point

Concerns growing about proximity to nuclear plant

November 13, 2001|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

Citing national security concerns, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said it will reconsider the approval it gave a month ago to plans to reactivate the Cove Point liquefied natural gas terminal in Lusby.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the terminal's proximity to the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant - which is about three miles north on the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County - has fueled concern that without proper safeguards its reactivation could pose risks of terrorist acts.

The FERC said "it is in the public interest to reconsider our October 12 decision and to take further evidence with respect to national security implications associated with the order."

The company seeking to reopen Cove Point - Williams Gas Pipeline, a Houston-based subsidiary of the Williams Cos. - currently uses the terminal as a storage facility. Williams plans to spend $150 million to renovate and reopen it as a destination for 90 liquefied natural gas tankers a year from overseas.

As part of the order, the FERC asked all parties and local, state and federal agencies to submit comments on the terminal's reactivation by Thursday. The commission plans to have a technical conference Friday in Washington to allow the parties and the agencies to discuss national security concerns regarding Cove Point. The meeting will be closed to the public.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, told the Senate that there is a need for federal agencies to look at the plant's proposed reopening from a national security standpoint. Mikulski could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Concerns over liquefied natural gas shipments in the United States have heightened since Sept. 11. After the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino blocked tankers carrying liquefied natural gas from docking in Boston Harbor for over a month before a federal judge intervened.

Gary Lauderdale, senior vice president and general manager for Williams, said in a statement that "the events of Sept. 11 have made everyone more aware of the potential threat to the nation's energy infrastructure. Williams has heightened security at its facilities and is working with government agencies, including the FERC, to ensure we're taking all logical steps to protect the public, our employees and our facilities, including the Cove Point facility."

When stored at temperatures below minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit, liquefied natural gas is not flammable. But it becomes highly flammable above that temperature.

News of the FERC decision heartened both nearby Lusby residents and critics of its reactivation.

"It makes me feel better," said Gail Oneyear, who's lived about a mile from the terminal with her husband for the past 36 years. "It makes me feel that somebody may have heard something we were saying down here."

"When they were using it as a storage facility, that didn't bother me," she said. "But the fact that these big ships are coming in, that bothers me a lot.

"They are very big foreign ships with foreign crews.

Barbara A. Stinnett, vice president of the Calvert County Board of Commissioners, said she was "thrilled" to hear the news.

"They need to step back; they were moving much too quickly," she said. "They need to take this very carefully because even before 9/11, we were very concerned. ... All of the agencies really have not been that responsive and the Coast Guard themselves have never answered all of my questions."

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