Feds clear Maryland natural gas export proposal

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Monday approved a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in Maryland, the first one on the East Coast.

Dominion Resources Inc. will be allowed to liquefy and export up to 5.75 million metric tons of natural gas per year from its existing Cove Point compressor station on the Chesapeake Bay.

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The decision follows a ruling in March by the Energy Department that the terminal may export gas to countries with or without a United States free trade agreement.

Dominion plans to have the $3.8 billion terminal up and running by June 2017. New construction would be on the same footprint as the existing site, the company said.

“We are pleased to receive this final approval that allows us to start constructing this important project that offers significant economic, environmental and geopolitical benefits,” Diane Leopold, president of Dominion Energy, said in a statement.

“Dominion is dedicated to constructing a safe, secure, environmentally compatible and reliable export facility.”

The Cove Point project, the fourth natural gas export terminal to gain FERC approval, is highly controversial. Environmentalists and local activists had protested every step of the approval process, saying it would increase demand for hydraulic fracturing.

Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas Campaign, called FERC’s decision “fundamentally flawed because the agency failed to consider the simple fact that exporting LNG will mean more drilling and fracking, and that means more climate pollution, more risk of contaminated groundwater, and more threats to the health of people who live near gas wells.”

“FERC’s decision to approve Cove Point is the result of a biased review process rigged in favor of approving gas industry projects no matter how great the environmental and safety concerns,” Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said in a statement.

A coalition that includes those two groups vowed to keep fighting the project, though they did not commit to any particular action.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is still under pressure from lawmakers to approve more LNG export proposals as a way to weaken the influence Russia wields through control of its neighbors’ gas supplies, including Ukraine’s.