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Dominion Transmission: Cove Point LNG project environmentally sound [Commentary]

The liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility at the Dominion Cove Point Terminal has long been a model of industrial and environmental cooperation. More than 1,000 acres of pristine beach, forest and marsh lands in southern Maryland are conserved, while at the same time the Chesapeake Bay is unharmed. Dominion is proud of its award-winning role as an environmental steward at Cove Point and has designed its proposed LNG export project to continue that commitment.

The Baltimore Sun's Sunday editorial calling for greater scrutiny of the project fails to take these facts and many more into account.

The Cove Point export project is under environmental scrutiny at the local, state and federal level, something about which we are familiar. When we proposed expanding the import facility in 2005 — a project that included 47 miles of new pipeline, two new storage tanks and associated piping — the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, required the detailed analysis known as an "environmental impact statement." The expansion project received its environmental permit, was built and has been operating safely since 2009.

Today, the proposed LNG export project will be built completely within the existing facility footprint — only 55 acres within an industrial 130 acres of the more than 1,000 acres total — without the need for additional land, piers, pipelines or storage tanks. The 800-acre natural preserve that surrounds the facility will remain untouched. That makes an "environmental assessment" appropriate. While more concise than an impact statement, an assessment is nevertheless an arduous and comprehensive federal review process. Dominion's application to the FERC was more than 12,000 pages.

Layering on another environmental impact statement — potentially adding significant delays and expense so soon after one impact statement has been completed — is like asking a driver to begin with a learner's permit every time the license is renewed.

The project's greenhouse gas emissions will be about the same as a mid-sized, natural-gas-fired power station — like those being built in Maryland and across the nation — and will comply with environmental regulations that are in place to protect the public health. Dominion will clean the air of other smog-producing emissions by paying companies for their reduced emissions of pollution, as permitted by federal and state law.

Ship traffic to and from the Cove Point pier will not change from currently permitted levels. We expect about the same number of ships during export activity as there were at the peak of import activity in 2004-2005 — about one ship every four days, or approximately 85 ships a year. The maximum number of ships permitted is 200 a year, or one about every other day. For comparison, about 14,000 commercial ships pass Cove Point annually.

Pursuant to U.S. Coast Guard regulations, ballast water in ships coming to the Cove Point pier must be exchanged in the Atlantic Ocean before they enter the Chesapeake Bay. Their captains must also show Coast Guard inspectors that they have an active program to keep their hulls clean of biological organisms. The same procedure must be followed by all ships going to Baltimore Harbor.

Exports of some of our abundant natural gas can help our allies meet their urgent clean energy needs. President Barack Obama has encouraged a global market for natural gas in his Climate Action Plan as a way to promote the move to cleaner fuels; natural gas has half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal. Studies show that we still will have ample supplies of natural gas to keep prices affordable for customers and maintain cost advantages for our businesses.

Yes, as The Sun's editorial stated, the project will benefit the economy by providing jobs, income and new tax revenues. There is nothing trivial about 3,000 new construction jobs over a three-year period as the economy for working men and women remains sluggish. Calvert County will receive up to $40 million annually in additional property taxes. The county also is projected to receive an estimated $23 million in income taxes, and Maryland is expected to take in $39 million in sales and income taxes during the 2013-2040 period.

Those who oppose the Cove Point project also say that if it is not built, the natural gas will stay in the ground. That view ignores reality. Other export projects would take Cove Point's place if it were not built.

With its conservation commitments in place, the smallest industrial footprint for a facility of its kind, strong environmental regulations safeguarding public health and an economic booster shot for the Maryland economy, it makes sense for Cove Point to be one of those export facilities.

Diane Leopold is a senior vice president for Dominion Transmission. Her email is dleopold@dom.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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