Thursday, July 9, 2009

LNG-LHG NPRM Public Comments – 07-02-09

Back in late April I wrote a short blog about a Coast Guard notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) about their implementation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulations for security at LNG-LHG facilities located in Ports or along navigable waterways. The comment period for than NPRM ended last week and as of last Friday there were a total of three comments posted to the web site. Those comments were received from: Southern LNG Town of Summerset Conservation Commissioner Dominion Cove Point LNG Southern LNG Comments Southern LNG provide a number of detailed comments about the proposed regulations and provide suggested changes to the wording that they find problematic or objectionable. They find that the requirements for submitting a LOI for physical improvements to marine terminal operations are overly broad and recommend that they be limited to improvements that “that would change the conditions reported in the last WSA” (pg 1). They object to the requirement for reporting the intended frequency of LNG shipments to the facility. They note that it is not possible to reliably forecast that number because of a number of business and weather variables that would affect consumption. Southern would like to see a requirement for the COP to provide a timely reply to follow-on WSA submissions and suggest a 90-day time limit for initial replies and 30-days for comments on facility responses. Finally, they firmly reject the assertion that the density and character of non-LNG marine traffic should be taken into consideration when determining waterway suitability for LNG shipments. Town of Summerset Conservation Commission Comments The Commission notes that they have a statutory (presumably a state or local law) responsibility to oversee the wetland protection aspects of the siting of facilities and pipelines as well as affects “the land under the ocean (LUO) that is within our borders”. They would like to be provided access to any WSA submissions affecting their area of responsibility, particularly the charts included in the submission. Dominion Cove Point LNG Comments Cove Point supports the proposed regulations with two caveats. First they would like to see a requirement that project sponsor or applicant be provided with a timely copy of the Letter of Recommendation to Agencies Having Jurisdiction (LOR) that the Coast Guard prepares after reviewing the submissions outlined in the proposed rule. This would allow for a timely response or clarification by the applicant. The information in the LOR is also used to develop the “Emergency Response Plan, the Facility Security Plan, and Operations and Emergency Manuals” for the facility. Finally, Cove Point disagrees with the Coast Guard’s statement in the NPRM (74 FR 19159) that “we believe the vessels that transport these cargoes pose similar risks to the waterway environment and the area surrounding the facility when transfer operations are underway”. Cove point does not object to similar regulatory requirements for the two distinct industries, but would appreciate the recognition of long safety record of the LNG industry and the more stringent regulatory requirements for the “the design, construction, and operation of LNG import terminal facilities” (pg 5). My Comments on Comments Given the controversies that almost always arise when a new LNG facility is proposed, it makes absolutely no sense that there are so few comments submitted on this NPRM. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the proposed regulations; it is just that any regulations covering potentially controversial subjects should involve a detailed discussion by all parties to the controversy. There is certainly the possibility that further responses will trickle in, but it is unlikely that there will be enough for an adequate discussion of the issues involved. While I make no claim to being a maritime expert (my maritime experience is limited to riding harbor tour boats or ferries), I think that I can see a big hole in the Southern LNG argument against considering maritime traffic patterns in the approval process for waterway suitability. While I may agree with the proposition that the government should not favor current users of a community asset over new users, I don’t think that that is the principle involved here. One of the key security measures that must be applied to large LNG tankers is keeping other shipping a ‘safe and secure’ distance away from the vessel during transit of waters where there is a potential danger to onshore populations in the event of a successful terrorist attack. In this case the word ‘safe’ has nothing to do with the consequence distance from the tanker to the other vessel. It is the provision for enough separation for the Coast Guard escort vessels to intervene if it appears that another vessel is attempting to attack the tanker. The Coast Guard vessels must have enough room to maneuver to interdict a potential attack. A crowded waterway, especially if the vessels are recreational vessels that might be under less disciplined control, will make for a more difficult environment for the Coast Guard to respond to potential attacks. Additionally, a large number of small vessels (the likely form of attack) makes early identification of attackers more difficult.

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