Weaver's Cove Energy CEO Gordon Shearer announced plans Thursday to construct an offshore berth in Mount Hope Bay to receive tanker deliveries of liquefied natural gas.
As opposition to the plan to ship liquefied natural gas continues to mount, Weaver’s Cove Energy officials are considering changing course once again by developing an offshore berth for the unloading of LNG and the subsequent pumping to its proposed facility along the Taunton River.
The offshore facility, according to plans released Thursday, would be in Somerset waters and sit about 1 mile from the nearest shoreline and 2 miles south of the Braga Bridge. It would connect to the proposed facility via an 4-mile-long buried pipeline. The facility would include berthing structures to secure LNG tankers during unloading operations and support transfer piping and controls.
Weaver’s Cove Energy CEO Gordon Shearer said that if approved, the offshore facility would remove the need to use the smaller-sized tankers that are currently proposed to navigate under the Brightman Street Bridge.
“It is an option that we believe addresses the concerns around the issues and perceptions around the Taunton River,” Shearer said by phone Thursday. “This will keep LNG ships out of the river altogether and appears to address a lot of what has been raised.”
In a move city officials considered a fatal blow to the proposed project, the U.S. Coast Guard announced in October that the proposed shipping route to carry LNG from the Atlantic Ocean to Fall River is “unsuitable from a navigation safety perspective for the type, size and frequency of LNG marine traffic associated.”
Coast Guard captain of the port of southeastern Massachusetts Roy Nash specifically noted the waterway from Sandy Point, Prudence, R.I., to the proposed facility on the banks of the Taunton River.
Shearer said this proposal still needs to go through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s “prefiling” process, which would be followed by a six-month period of consultation, drafting and review of environmental data. A formal filing would then take place, leaving a three- to four-month window for FERC review. Shearer said he expects the decision-making process to take approximately 14 months.
“We are not giving up on this project, and this is a sign of that,” Shearer said. “What we are trying to do is dissuade those concerns that have led to objections of the project.”
Locally, elected officials and those who have followed the project are not convinced Weaver’s Cove Energy’s latest proposal will do that.
“I don’t believe this is a viable option,” Mayor Robert Correia said. “It doesn’t get rid of the danger at the site itself. ... It still means there will be a storage facility on land sited in a residential area.”
As he faces his first significant public challenge in the LNG arena as mayor, Correia said his strategy to defeat this proposal will be to “just be upfront” with the city’s objections. He said, however, he finds this proposal an admission that tankers will not cross under the Braga Bridge.
“I think it’s a big concession, because they now know they are not getting an LNG ship up the river and into that cove,” Correia said.
Support also will not be coming from the head of the City Council Joseph D. Camara.
“He’s (Shearer) on the right track. Now he should just keep heading out to the ocean,” Camara said. “It’s not something I’m going to support. It’s still too close to what we’re trying to protect here: the people. Putting it in the bay is not the type of offshore we’ve been talking about.”
Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said the offshore proposal is “bordering on stunning in its audaciousness, greed and stupidity.”
“If they claim to have been listening and this is what they cane up with after a clear substantive evaluation, then they are not only greedy but deaf and dumb,” Lynch said. “To suggest such a ludicrous, unworkable, unimaginable option clearly and finally illustrates their disregard for people in general, nevermind the environment.”
Coalition for the Responsible Siting of LNG Facilities members Joseph Carvalho and Michael Miozza both suggested that if this proposal goes forward, FERC should conduct an entirely new review of the project, including the siting of the terminal on New Street.
“We’re still going to have vessels coming into Mount Hope Bay, so this still presents safety and security risks,” Miozza said. “While this is a change in the project, it is still an unacceptable risk. I will call for them to go back to FERC and start all over again.”
Carvalho said Weaver’s Cove Energy officials are “grasping at straws.”
“I’m as adamantly opposed to this as I am to their other dog-and-pony shows,” Carvalho said.
Rhode Island state Rep. Raymond Gallison, D-Bristol, said even if this proposal reached fruition, the transit of tankers would still be forbidden through Ocean State waters due to legislation he authored regulating LNG tankers and their proximity to state assets.
“The federal government says we’re allowed to protect the assets of the state of Rhode Island, and under my law our assets are protected,” Gallison said, adding he would oppose this proposal.
“I think this is a situation of them just trying to put a dollar over people,” Gallison added.
While local officials immediately dismissed the offshore plans, Shearer maintains his position that an LNG facility in the city will be a boon on several fronts.
“Hopefully it addresses the concerns for the region’s need for energy and as we’re heading into a recession this project will lead to the creation of hundreds of construction jobs,” Shearer said. “This project will lead to the creation of construction jobs, as well as lower taxes and energy prices. I would hope at some point a reasonable and balanced and more rational debate will start on this.”
E-mail Will Richmond at firstname.lastname@example.org.