LNG Terminal and Fracking Opponents Target Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for Major Protest

Posted Oct. 8, 2014

MP3 Interview with Ted Glick, national campaign coordinator with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


On Sept. 29, the FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, approved the construction of a liquified natural gas, or LNG, export terminal at Cove Point, Maryland, in the town of Lusby on Chesapeake Bay. The facility was originally built to import natural gas, but since the boom of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which extracts gas from tight shale rock formations over the last decade, the U.S. is awash in the fossil fuel and the industry is looking to sell it abroad.

Energy business observers say that the construction of export terminals will greatly accelerate fracking in the nearby Marcellus shale, which covers regions of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. Environmental activists warn that the fracking extraction method results in a large increase in carbon emissions that cause climate change, as well as endangering local communities that have experienced both air and water pollution.

A legal protest followed by a civil disobedience action briefly shut down FERC’s offices in Washington, D.C. in July. Now a broad coalition of groups and individuals are planning a week of protests at the agency in the first week of November. Opponents charge that FERC, which operates independently of the federal government, narrowly serves the interests of the energy industry it was established to regulate, by acting as a rubber stamp for natural gas projects. Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Ted Glick, national campaign coordinator with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. He says opponents are organizing the protest as they appeal FERC's decision on the Cove Point LNG terminal, which is just one of more than a dozen such terminals seeking federal approval for construction across the U.S.

TED GLICK: And there are many groups that will continue to fight to change this decision as well as to prevent the building of additional export terminals. There are 13 other proposed export terminals that FERC is dealing with right now; they have now approved four of them. This is part of a huge plan just to tremendously expand the fracked gas industry in the U.S. and move it worldwide.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, Cove Point was originally built as a gas import terminal before fracking produced so much gas domestically?

TED GLICK: Right. It was actually built in the 1970s as an import terminal. It was sold to Dominion about ten years ago, again as an import terminal. But the planned expansion of imports via that particular site at Cove Point did not pan out because of the rise of fracking, essentially, particularly in the Marcellus shale region, and this Cove Point facility would be an outlet for much of the fracked gas that would continue to be brought out of the ground and actually expanded; there would be a big increase in fracking to meet both the domestic demand for natural gas as well as the international demand for it.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Ted Glick, I've been to southern Louisiana, which is covered with all kinds of oil and gas infrastructure. It's a sacrifice zone to the oil and gas industry, and it's also known as Cancer Alley. That happens to be where one of the approved export terminals is farthest along. But the area around Cove Point is totally different, right?

TED GLICK: The import facility that exists now, it's within the community of Cove Point, and the greater area is the town of Lusby, Maryland. And I believe the figure is something like 2,500 people live within one mile of this facility and there are definitely real dangers living close to a natural gas facility like this one. The processes that have to be undertaken to change the gas to a liquid – they need to take the gas that comes in from the Marcellus shale region, particularly Pennsylvania, if this comes to fruition and it starts to work – they would need to liquify the gas to a liquid to put it onto these tankers and ship it overseas. That's a very energy-intensive process. They need to bring the temperature of the gas down to something like minus 260 degrees F to turn it into a liquid. And just the whole process is dangerous; natural gas is definitely something that can catch on fire, that can explode, and to have something like this built right within this neighborhood of hundreds of homes within the blast radius, essentially, of a major accident there is just crazy; it really is crazy. We don't (believe) there is any other export terminal, or maybe even any import terminal anywhere in the world that is built right in the middle of a neighborhood the way this one is.

BETWEEN THE LINES: A local commission changed the rules or gave the company a pass in order to facilitate Dominion's project. Can you talk about that?

TED GLICK: Yes, the county commissioners essentially exempted this one entity from any of the regulations governing industrial facilities for that county. And a county judge ruled that that was unconstitutional, that a county commission cannot pick and choose that this entity doesn't have to abide by zoning regulations that other industries do. That has not yet been fully litigated in terms of what that decision of that county judge that what the county commissioners did was unconstitutional according to the Maryland constitution, how that matches up with the FERC decision – the federal agency – that Dominion can go ahead and start building this. The background, though, of FERC is that they essentially overrule local jurisdictions, so that is probably what's going to happen. But actually, the federal court of appeals in D.C. that will likely be hearing the appeal of the FERC approval eventually, they made a pretty good decision, essentially ruling about six months ago for a project for a pipeline coming across from Pennsylvania, and New Jersey into the New York area – they ruled that FERC had illegally segmented the pipeline into different 50-mile segments, even though it was essentially the same pipeline – it all connected together. They segmented it, and that was a way to try to hide and to obfuscate the overall impact of the thing, kind of the cumulative impact of building something like this on local areas, on forests where the pipeline went through, on rivers where the pipeline went through, and the danger of leaks and so on. So there have been some court decisions in the past couple of years that are going more our way, and that's hopeful in terms of what's likely to be happening for sure in terms of this Cove Point decision.

Find more information on the Chesapeake Climate Action Network by visiting chesapeakeclimate.org. Full disclosure: Melinda Tuhus is part of the team organizing protest actions at FERC's offices in Washington, D.C. the first week of November 2014.

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