(Adds background, details from report, comment from
environmentalists, share price)
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON May 15 Dominion Resources' bid
to export liquefied natural gas from the coast of Maryland
cleared a major hurdle on Thursday with a favorable
environmental review from federal regulators.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's review of
Dominion's Cove Point found that the project would not have a
significant impact on the environment since it would be built in
the same area as the company's existing import facility.
In a 241-page report, FERC said the project would have
minimal effects on wetlands, vegetation and wildlife if it takes
appropriate mitigation measures such as spill prevention and
wetland erosion protections.
FERC also concluded that the project had "sufficient layers
of safeguards" to prevent accidents and to protect public
With its environmental review complete, analysts have said
in recent months they expect FERC to make a decision on the
project some time this summer.
Located about an hour's drive from Washington, D.C., Cove
Point has been a target for environmentalists concerned about
pollution from the shale gas boom that paved the way for LNG
Green groups and local residents blasted the FERC's decision
to issue an environmental assessment, saying a more robust
environmental impact statement would allow in-depth analysis of
the greenhouse gas emissions that could result from the project
and would provide more opportunities for public input.
In response to the opposition, FERC has agreed to hold a
public meeting to gather comments on its assessment.
Dominion defended the commission's decision to forego the
more detailed analysis.
"This project will be built within the existing footprint
and fence line of an industrial site," said Diane Leopold,
president of Dominion Energy. "There is no need for additional
pipelines, storage tanks or permanent piers, thus limiting its
impact and making an environmental assessment appropriate."
Unlike impact statements, environmental assessments prepared
by federal agencies are meant to be concise documents without an
abundance of long descriptions or detailed data.
But a mere assessment "isn't up to the task of weighing
these impacts," said Nathan Matthews, an attorney for the Sierra
Club. Green groups have threatened to challenge the report in
court if they deemed it insufficient.
Dominion has strongly disputed those complaints, arguing
that the project will actually help reduce global greenhouse gas
emissions by replacing coal-fired power generation, and that it
will not make a big difference to shale gas development.
Companies need approval from both the Department of Energy,
which determines whether the proposed exports would be in the
public interest, and FERC, which assesses environmental and
safety effects of the projects' construction and operation.
Cove Point earned conditional approval from the Energy
Department last year to export 0.77 billion cubic feet a day of
Most of the exports from the Maryland terminal, once it is
operational, are expected to be headed for Asia.
Dominion shares were down 0.7 percent in afternoon trading
on the New York Stock Exchange, at $69.42.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe, editing by Ros Krasny and Diane