Natural gas bleeds into gubernatorial campaign

The controversy over exporting liquefied natural gas via the Chesapeake Bay has become an issue in the race for Maryland's State House, at least among the Democratic candidates for governor.

Saying the environmental costs are too high, Montgomery County Del. Heather Mizeur announced Friday that she opposes a bid by Dominion, a Virginia-based energy company, to export LNG through a terminal it owns at Cove Point in Calvert County.


Dominion has proposed spending $3.8 billion to convert the terminal from a rarely used import station to one where natural gas piped in could be liquefied and loaded on huge tankers for shipping to customers in Asia and elsewhere worldwide.

But Mizeur echoed environmentalists' criticism of Dominion's proposal, saying the converted facility would release more climate-altering greenhouse gases into the air than all of the state's coal-fired power plants put together.


"If we are serious about fighting climate change," she said, "the Cove Point export facility must be stopped."

The company says the terminal would have one of the smallest environmental footprints of any similar facility, and it would emit no more climate-altering greenhouse gases than a mid-sized power plant fueled by natural gas. The project would support some 3,000 construction jobs and 75 permanent positions once completed, the company says.

Mizeur has been outspoken in questioning the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, and she said the facility also would enable that practice, serving as a collection and shipment point for gas extracted from throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

"Fracking," as it's commonly called, has spurred a bonanza of gas extraction throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  Maryland has a de facto moratorium as it studies whether to permit the practice, and Mizeur sits on the study panel.

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Opponents have raised a variety of environmental and safety concerns about the Cove Point project.  In response to Mizeur's announcement, her rivals for the Democratic nomination staked out more middle-of-the-road positions.

Attorney General Doug Gansler, who like Mizeur often aligns himself with green groups, issued a statement through a spokesman saying he "believes that the environmental impact of a project of this magnitude should always be fully assessed prior to its construction."

Asked if that meant he favored requiring the project to undergo a comprehensive environmental impact study, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has urged, Gansler's campaign spokesman declined to elaborate.

"Maryland needs the jobs as well as to protect our air and water -- we must do both at Cove Point.," Gansler said.


A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown took a similarly equivocal stance in a statement issued by his campaign manager, Justin Schall.

"The Lt. Governor would not oppose the conversion of this facility," he said, "if the environmental concerns that have been raised can be mitigated appropriately."

Dominion has received approval from the Department of Energy to export LNG from Cove Point to anywhere in the world.  It is seeking permission now from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.