Saying no to LNG

March 16, 2006

The Virginia-based AES Corp. proposal to build a liquefied natural gas terminal and pipeline at the former Sparrows Point shipyard is wrong for Baltimore County. The location is simply too close to a major metropolitan area. This is not to say that the nation doesn't need LNG terminals. U.S. consumption of natural gas is rising but domestic production is not. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is reviewing plans for about 40 such facilities (compared with the 16 in operation today) and expects that perhaps 12 will eventually be built. At a population of 2.6 million and growing, the Baltimore metropolitan area is just not the place to locate one of them - at least not so close to residential neighborhoods.

Admittedly, the Sparrows Point shipyard remains an underdeveloped asset. The AES plan calls for an LNG storage facility on 60 acres along with an 85-mile pipeline to link it to out-of-state customers. Double-hulled ships would transport the extremely cold liquid from overseas (Trinidad and Tobago are major East Coast suppliers). The investment is considerable - $400 million for the terminal and another $250 million for the pipeline.

But there are safety concerns posed by LNG, which, under certain circumstances, can become explosive. Accidents happen. In 1944, a spill from a Cleveland LNG storage facility caused a fire and explosion that killed 128 people. The failure of a pump seal led to a fatal fire at the Cove Point LNG terminal in rural Calvert County in 1979.

The threat of terrorism is also a serious concern. Federal regulations require certain security procedures - LNG tankers must be given a wide berth by other vessels, for instance - but the more remote a terminal's location, the better. The Sparrows Point peninsula is less than two miles from the Baltimore Beltway and from the residential neighborhood of Turners Station. That's a little too close for comfort.

Eastern Baltimore County residents have made their opposition clear. So have Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and other local elected officials. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. belatedly joined the cause last week. That should have an impact on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which must decide whether to approve the LNG facility.

Baltimore County has made tremendous progress in renewing its east side in recent years. County economic development officials worry that the presence of an LNG facility at Sparrows Point could hamper efforts to bring other industrial jobs there and to continue the revival of surrounding residential neighborhoods. That alone is reason enough to oppose the project.

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