Cove Point to Hogan: Help Stop The Dominion Gas Plant

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The Dominion Cove Point export facility is two-thirds complete. Source: Dominion.com
The Dominion Cove Point liquid natural gas export facility is two-thirds complete. Source: Dominion.com

As we reported in 2014, Lusby, Maryland, a coastal community known as Cove Point, has found itself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The seaside community snuggles up to an idle liquid natural gas facility that Dominion Energy is converting to the East Coast’s only natural gas liquifying and export facility.

But Cove Point is fighting back hard. Now they’re seeking Governor Hogan’s help to stop and study the project that butts up to 2,365 homes, three churches, two schools and 19 daycare centers. 

Plus, another critical question looms: Why are we building a huge fossil fuel export facility when we’re trying to reduce global warming Greenhouse Gases?

That’s right, fracking is about U.S. energy independence

Exporting U.S. gas is the final step in the fracking-based energy strategy that began in 2005 with the Bush administration. About 100,000 fracking wells in 32 states have been drilled. Today, fracking’s natural gas accounts for 50 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply. 

But the U.S. gas industry over-drilled and has flooded the domestic market causing prices to fall by 50 percent. With the U.S. natural gas demand relatively constant, producers desperately want to sell cheap U.S. natural gas to Asian countries. As the chart below illustrates, natural gas prices are three-times higher in foreign markets. So much for energy independence.

Show me the money. Though there is a natural price discrepency today?
Show me the money. Will domestic natural gas prices increase when exports start?

Maryland is the Lucky LNG Winner!

But oceans come into play as natural gas is delivered via pipelines and the heavy natural gas users are in Asia. To get around geographical barriers, gas companies can convert natural gas into liquid natural gas (LNG) and ship the LNG on specially-designed tankers to foreign ports-of-call. 

Export LNG plants are very expensive to build from the ground up. The ideal investment strategy is for private energy firms to convert existing LNG import facilities into LNG export facilities.  Until the U.S could access our vast reserves of natural gas in shale plays miles underground through fracking, the U.S. used to import LNG.

LNG terminals are approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). State, county and local governments have little say in the approval process. 

The only viable outgoing gas nozzle, or existing import LNG terminal, on the East Coast happens to be on Maryland’s shore in Lusby, Maryland.  Lusby is town of 20,000 people in Calvert County. Virginia-based Dominion Energy owns the once-dormant LNG import facility. FERC approved Dominion’s Cove Point export LNG facility in 2014.  The first LNG ships loaded with Appalachia natural gas are expected to embark in late 2017. 

LNG facilities are large-scale and can be dangerous. To export gas, Appalachia-fracked natural gas will be pumped through pipelines to Dominion’s Cove Point plant. Using lots of technology, chemicals and on-site generated electricity (more on that below), the natural gas will be cooled down to -260, compressed and liquified, and then shipped to India and Japan. One thousand shipping tankers are expected to leave Cove Point’s piers each year. 

Lame Environmental Risk Assessment

One of many push backs the Cove Point community has about Dominion’s Cove Point approval is the lack of a serious Quantitative Risk Assessment. Legally required for all large federal projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), FERC only required a lighter Environmental Assessment, rather than a more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement. 

Dominion’s LNG Cove Point facility is one of Maryland’s largest construction projects. The site includes a newly-built dedicated power plant to convert the gas to liquid. The new electricity plant will be the state’s 4th largest emitter of Greenhouse Gases. 

If a flammable event occurs, the 2006 Environmental Assessment (which used outdated 2001 standards), found that anything within 0.8 miles (about 1,000 people) would be engulfed in flames in the event of a flash fire. 

Cove Point residents and businesses opposing Dominion’s expanded export facility maintain that Cove Point has never been adequately analyzed for potential negative environmental and human health risks. 

On August 4, 2016, 81 organizations delivered a letter to Governor Hogan urging him to request an official Quantitative Risk Assessment. Word is the Maryland Energy Administration is reviewing the letter and will respond to the community activist group soon. 

A WeAreCovePoint.org volunteer hand-delivered the safety study request letter to Governor Hogan.
A WeAreCovePoint.org volunteer hand-delivered the safety study request letter to Governor Hogan.

This is not good for Lusby.  How does this affect me?

For the 15th straight month, global average temperatures were the highest since record keeping began in 1880. Ellicott City’s 1-in-1,000 year rain and the ensuing floods were caused by 5 1/2 inches of rain falling in just 90 minutes. Baton Rouge, Louisiana experienced 20 inches of rain in a 72-hour period last month. Another 1-in-1,000 year rain event. 

Global warming is rearing its ugly head. Humans have altered the planet’s health by burning oil, gas and coal and pumping too many Greenhouse Gases into our closed atmospheric system. Exporting natural gas will only increase fracking and its global warming methane leaks. Add to this that a major industrial, and potentially dangerous plant, is being built right in a Maryland community, and this project makes little long term sense.

Exporting natural gas for short term profits simply kicks the global-warming-can down the road with sky-high risks for Cove Point residents. We will see if Governor Hogan decides to wade in and request a more stringent safety study. 

Global methane concentrations have shot since 2005, which coincides with fracking's worldwide boom. In its first 20 years in the atmosphere, methane is 20 times more potent GGH that CO2.
Global methane concentrations have shot up since 2005, which happens to coincide with fracking’s worldwide boom. In its first 20 years in the atmosphere, methane is 80 times more potent that CO2.

Laurel Peltier
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Laurel Peltier

Laurel writes the environmental GreenLaurel column every other Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of UVA's MBA program, she spends her time with her family and making "all things green" interesting.
Laurel Peltier
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2 COMMENTS

  1. Agree, a nice write up, thanks!
    Alas, Governor Hogan has shown he doesn’t give more than a passing thought to protecting our children and the climate, so I would be very surprised of doesn’t side with short-sighted business interests once again on this issue.
    But this doesn’t mean that we should stop fighting for justice for the residents of Lusby (and the rest of Maryland.)

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