FERC finds little environmental impact in Md. natural gas export project

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released a report Thursday concluding that a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility near Lusby, Md., would have minimal environmental impact.

“The FERC staff concludes that approval of the proposed project, with appropriate mitigating measures, would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” FERC said in its report about the Cove Point LNG Terminal.

FERC found that Dominion Resources Inc. has proposed sufficient safeguards to mitigate the impacts of potential environmental incidents at the facility. Dominion has committed to purchasing credits to offset nitrogen oxide emissions from construction and will comply with all necessary federal laws and regulations, including those related to historic preservation and endangered species, FERC said.

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The Thursday report is an environmental assessment, because FERC concluded that the project does not require the more thorough environmental impact statement.

The agency's commissioners will take the environmental assessment into account when they decide whether to issue a permit for Cove Point. The release of the report opens a 30-day public comment period on the review.

Dominion welcomed the assessment and said that it adds to previous federal, state and independent studies supporting the project.

“This marks another important step forward in a project that has very significant economic benefits and helps two allied nations in their efforts to increase their energy security and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” Diane Leopold, president of Dominion Energy, said in a statement. Energy is Dominion’s unit responsible for natural gas distribution.

Dominion said the project will modify a facility that has exist for nearly 40 years and will stay within its footprint, which justifies FERC’s finding of a limited impact.

The Cove Point project is controversial among environmentalists who fear the potential harm to the surrounding community, plus the environmental impact of natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. A coalition of environmental groups blasted FERC’s report.

“President Obama has told us many times that failure to address the climate crisis amounts to the betrayal of our children and future generations, so it would be inexcusable for FERC to allow the LNG export facility at Cove Point to start operating without a full environmental review,” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement.

Earthjustice said the assessment did not address impacts such as the threat to nearby residents, potential pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and the risks to endangered whales.

The American Petroleum Institute also welcomed the report.

“The technology-driven revolution in U.S. oil and natural gas production has opened the door to export opportunities that could create thousands of jobs in Maryland and around the country,” Erik Milito, director of the API’s upstream and industry operations, said in a statement. “After the 30-day comment period, we urge federal regulators to quickly approve the facility.”

A proposed LNG export terminal in Louisiana is the only one to have full FERC approval. Six others, including Cove Point, have Department of Energy approval to export to any World Trade Organization country, but they lack FERC’s permit.