If Shell Oil’s giant LNG terminal drops anchor in Long Island Sound, what will it mean for boaters, fishermen, utility bills and our local environment?
It’s a terrorist bulls-eye, a bonanza of badly needed energy, an industrial rape of the Long Island Sound, a break on your utility bills… Take your pick. Broadwater, the mammoth liquefied natural gas barge proposed for Long Island Sound, has been hailed as all of these, and more.
The “Floating Storage and Regasification Unit” (FSRU), would be stationed nine miles north of Wading River. It would take on millions of gallons of super-cold Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from ocean-going tankers, warm it back into gas and funnel it to Long Island and elsewhere via pipeline. Federal energy regulators appear ready to give the $700 million project a green light. But it can’t go forward without approvals from three different state agencies reporting to Governor David Paterson. Meanwhile Long Island environmentalists are locked in a bitter public relations war with Shell Oil, Broadwater’s ultra deep-pocketed co-sponsor. Spin-doctors for both sides have been running amok with TV ads, press conferences and e-mail blasts. Here’s a quick list of the major claims from the two camps and a “fact check” for each.
Broadwater is needed to meet a growing demand for natural gas on Long Island and in the NY area.
Fact check: State energy officials estimate the New York area will need 36% more natural gas by 2026, mostly for generating electricity. Broadwater would pump in an extra billion cubic feet per day, enough to power 4 million homes. (About a quarter of it would be used on Long Island). That would put a major dent in the supply crunch. But there are other possible sources. One of them is the Iroquois Pipeline from Canada. It could provide about a third of Broadwater’s output with “no environmental damage…no problems,” says Adrienne Esposito, spokesperson for the Anti-Broadwater Coalition. There are also two proposals for offshore gas terminals in the Atlantic Ocean, which LI environmentalists consider far less threatening than a barge in the ecologically fragile Sound. Some private investors are pushing to build an LNG terminal on a 60-acre artificial island 131⁄2 miles south of Long Beach. That would contribute up to 2 billion cubic feet per day. Exxon’s “BlueOcean Energy” floating import facility would be located 30 miles south of NY, about 20 miles off the coast of NJ, and supply 1.2 million cubic feet per day by the middle of the next decade. Broadwater officials claim very little of that supply would benefit us because, “You can’t get any more gas into New York unless you put in a tremendous amount of infrastructure. You’ve got to build new pipelines,” said Broadwater spokesman John Hritcko, Jr. Exxon executives countered, “Blue Ocean Energy proposes to deliver natural gas to fuel the New Jersey and New York region. This will be done by connecting to already existing interstate pipelines.”
Broadwater would save you $300 a year on your energy bills.
Fact check: Even if this proves true, don’t expect a check in the mail. Broadwater is talking about your future electric and gas bills, claiming those increases will be smaller with an extra billion cubic feet of natural gas flowing into the NY marketplace. But how exactly did Broadwater come up with that figure of $300 in consumer savings? We may never know. Broadwater says the consultant firm it used does not want to publicly share its methods. However, a different study released last year by LIPA projected that Broadwater would produce an overall savings of 17% over a ten-year period—a total of $14.8 billion. Opponents call this voodoo economics. There’s no way to guarantee low prices over the long term, says the Anti-Broadwater Coalition’s Esposito, because the market for this fossil fuel is unpredictable and dependent on the whims of foreign suppliers. “You think they’re waking up and saying, ‘Hey, let’s give America cheap natural gas?’ They’re not saying that. They’re saying how can we bleed them for the most money possible.” In fact, the LNG market is tight now because LNG suppliers can get better prices in Europe. But Broadwater insists any price spikes will be temporary because the industry is expected to double its supply capacity by the end of the next decade. “The gas is there, the projects are in various stages of either completion or on the drawing board,” says Hritcko.
Broadwater is not a safety threat to homes on shore or to other ships.
Fact check: LNG does not explode, but a leak that finds an ignition source will burn extremely hot. A U.S. Department of Energy study shows that a full blown tanker fire can cause serious burns over a mile away. The Coast Guard will establish a permanent 11⁄2 mile wide prohibited zone around the barge. Similar precautions will apply to the LNG tankers that feed Broadwater as they slip through the eastern Sound two to three times a week. A moving security zone will be imposed around each tanker, extending two miles in front, one mile behind, and 750 feet on either side. At 9 miles from the nearest land, most experts agree that an inferno aboard Broadwater would not directly affect people and homes on shore. But LNG tankers will pass as close as two miles to Orient as they enter the Sound to deliver their cargo. That could be an issue, since some research suggests there is a small possibility that an LNG vapor cloud could be carried several miles downwind before igniting. Coast Guard has declared the dangers are manageable. Meanwhile, Broadwater points to the industry’s safety record to date. While there have been several fatal accidents at land-based plants, the Coast Guard says there have been only eight “marine incidents” involving spills in over 33,000 LNG tanker voyages during the industry’s 45 year old history. Even so, there has never been a floating LNG terminal like Broadwater before.
Broadwater is an obvious terrorist target.
Fact Check: There is plenty of official concern over the vulnerability of sea-going LNG shipments. A determined terrorist in a plane or boat packed with explosives could trigger a spectacular fire. According to a U.S. General Accounting Office study issued in January “…the threat of seaboard terrorist attacks on maritime energy tankers and infrastructure is likely to persist…” But terrorists seem to prefer targets in populated areas with lots of potential victims and witnesses. Broadwater, only a smudge on the horizon from the closest land, doesn’t fit that bill. Nevertheless, the Coast Guard Waterway Suitability Report on Broadwater states “additional resources” will be needed both for law enforcement and marine firefighting. Suffolk County has pegged the cost of providing that extra protection at $12 million annually. Broadwater says it will pick up the additional security tab, including the purchase of four firefighting tugs to be based at Port Jefferson and Greenport. But exactly how much Broadwater will kick in has yet to be worked out.
Broadwater would “industrialize” the Sound.
Fact check: Long Island Sound is a “nationally significant” estuary, home to 120 species of fish, and a playground for boaters, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. But it’s also a busy industrial waterway. Thousands of cargo ships, barges, ferries, oil tankers and the like ply its waters each year. LNG shipments to the Broadwater terminal would add only about 100 to 150 trips annually, according to Broadwater spokesman Hritcko. The no-traffic zone surrounding the facility would occupy about an area of 11⁄2 miles out of The Sound’s total 1,300 square miles. Still, if Broadwater is approved, for the first time in history a piece of the Sound would in effect become the sole domain of a multinational corporation. “It’s not a ship or a vessel. To me it’s a floating factory,” says Sid Bail of the Wading River Civic Association. Boaters and fishermen would have to make way, like commercial lobsterman John German of Mt. Sinai, whose traps lie in the middle of what would become the pro hibited area around the terminal. “I would rather not see it…I’ve been fishing for 43 years…it’s my life,” he said. Broadwater has promised to compensate lobstermen like German for their lost business, but other mariners would be compromised by delays as they yield to mega-tankers escorted by the Coast Guard.
Broadwater would seriously threaten marine life in the Sound.
Fact check: There would definitely be impacts, but how serious? The project involves plowing a trench along the bottom of the Sound to accommodate a 30-inch wide, 22-mile pipe that would link up with an existing Cross-Sound pipeline. Before it’s used, the pipe would be tested one time only by pressurizing it with water containing a “biocide.” To stabilize itself, the barge would also regularly discharge millions of gallons of seawater treated with “a very small amount of chlorine…less than what you have in your drinking water,” says Broadwater’s Hritcko. According to the final environmental impact study issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the negative effects of these and other aspects of the project would be “relatively minor.” But lobsterman Sam Rispoli is far from convinced. Rispoli has “a lot of serious questions” about Broadwater’s impact on “the resources I depend on [as does] everybody else.” He is not alone. Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation have raised issues of their own about Broadwater’s effect on the Sound’s delicate ecosystem. The DEC published two letters warning that the project’s ballast intake apparatus could destroy hundreds of millions of aquatic eggs and larvae. Hritcko says Broadwater is “talking to DEC about mitigating that,” noting, however, that “only a small fraction of those ever mature to an actual fish or a lobster.”
BROADWATER — at a glance
Length: 1200 feet (about four football fields)
Height: 82 feet
Cost: $700 million, but could increase
Crew: 30 full time employees
Capacity: 80 million gallons of LNG at -260 F.
Output: 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day (Enough to power 4 million homes.)
Who gets the gas: 25-30% would be used on Long Island, the remainder in NYC and Connecticut
Location: L.I. Sound, 9 miles north of Wading River, approximately 10 miles south of Branford,Connecticut.
Security zone radius: 1,210 yards (about .7 miles)
Time to Construct: 3 to 4 years
Owners: Shell U.S. Gas and Power and TransCanada (joint venture)