Critics raise questions about LNG plant’s latest impact study

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An environmental review of the 8 million gallon liquefied natural gas plant under construction on the Tacoma Tideflats would generate less fossil fuel emissions only if the natural gas were collected in British Columbia, but critics say the study is based on assumptions. Rendering courtesy of PSE

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency released a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) regarding the liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant that Puget Sound Energy is building on the Tacoma Tideflats. The SEIS included the contracted consultant’s recommendation that the final permit for the project include a requirement that the plant only use natural gas from British Columbia. That is, the report stated, the only way that the plant could avoid adding greenhouse gas emissions. Critics question the report’s numbers and assumptions.

The report, presented by Ecology and Environmental Inc., stated that while natural gas emits lower amounts of greenhouse gases than other fuels used in the maritime industry, there would be no reduction of overall gas emissions unless the natural gas were piped 145 miles from British Columbia because of Canada’s regulations regarding emission controls.

“The analysis supports the recommendation that the facility’s air permit include the condition regarding the sole source of natural gas from British Columbia as a requirement so the analysis and this conclusion is consistent with the proponent’s project description,” the report stated, noting that the review is an informational and evaluative tool and “does not mandate approval or disapproval of the (project’s) potential impacts related to emissions…”

The draft SEIS is available through the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, which is collecting public comments about it through Nov. 21. Those comments will be added to the final supplemental study that is expected after the new year. A public hearing on the 212-page report, its conclusions and recommendations is scheduled for 2-5 p.m. and 6:30-10 p.m. on Oct. 30 at the Rialto Theater.

The 8 million-gallon facility has been the center of controversy for years. It will produce about 250,000 to 500,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas each day as a cleaner-burning fuel for cargo ships, particularly TOTE ships between Tacoma and Alaska. It would also serve as storage to use during cold snaps and fuel for long-haul trucks.

Critics have long questioned the financing plan of the project that has PSE utility customers pay for a portion of the facility that is going to be profitable for its wholly owned subsidiary. Critics are also concerned about the construction of yet another fossil fuel facility so close to urbanized areas and the safety of liquefied natural gas itself. The latest review didn’t calm their worries.

“It was easy to tell that the company that wrote it was extremely biased for PSE and the LNG plant,” said Steven Storms, a retired chemical engineer and outspoken critic of the project. “They took every assumption that had any impact and picked the best possible to prove their case.”

His examples include the fact that the report claims the plant would not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions if the natural gas came by pipeline from British Columbia, but it isn’t a major producer of natural gas. Gas facilities in the Rockies were mentioned as alternative gas sources in an earlier report but not addressed in the new environmental review.

“By choosing B.C., they get the best possible results,” Storms said.

The recent review also claims that the plant would reduce carbon emissions in the region when ships other than TOTE convert to LNG, but the initial environmental review of the project states that TOTE would be its only maritime customer.

“The city says that another permit would be required (to add more maritime customers) but still, the new SEIS takes credit for burning fuel in ships,” Storms said.

The original environmental report also estimated that only two LNG trucks a day would fill up at the facility, but the new review mentions that more trucks would be used without further explanation.

Tarika Powell, a policy analyst at Sightline, a non-profit environmental think tank, had similar thoughts about the recent environmental review. She critiqued the report almost line by line on Twitter.

“1.1 Purpose and Need uses the term ‘cleaner fuel’ four times without having established as fact that LNG is a cleaner fuel,” she tweeted. “The conclusion that (the plant) will decrease emissions is seriously based on the premise that PSE will completely change their gas supply portfolio.”

But she does give the report some credit.

“Despite the complaints I have, so far the #TacomaLNG SEIS is way better informed than the city’s EIS, which was basically a 20-page book report typed in 72 point font,” she tweeted. “The bar is really low here, but the stakes are high.”

Public Hearing

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency will hold a public hearing from 2-5 p.m. and from 6:30-10 p.m. on Oct. 30 at the Rialto Theater, 310 S. Ninth St. People can comment there or submit written comments by mail: Puget Sound Clean Air Agency ATTN: Public Comment on DSEIS, PSE LNG Project, 1904 Third Ave, Suite 105, Seattle, WA 98101; by fax at (206) 343-7522; or email to publiccomment@pscleanair.org. The full report and other documents associated with the project are available online at pscleanair.org.

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