U.S. FERC staff OKs bigger El Paso LNG site in Ga

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Elba Island liquefied natural gas import terminal near Savannah, Georgia, would not do much harm to the environment if its size doubled, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff said in a final report on Friday.

Under the expansion plan, the terminal’s storage capacity would increase by 8.4 billion cubic feet of gas to 15.7 bcf, increasing the amount of gas the facility could send out daily by 900 million cubic feet to 2.1 bcf. The terminal would also accommodate larger LNG tankers.

About 187 miles of new pipeline would also be built to transport the extra gas handled by the expanded terminal.

The total cost for the pipeline and bigger terminal would be about $850 million, according to El Paso Corp., which owns the facility.

The project would be completed in two phases between January 2010 and December 2012.

Agency staff gave preliminary clearance to the project in March.

FERC commissioners will consider the staff’s recommendation when they decide at a later date whether to approve the project. The commissioners usually follow the staff’s advice.

LNG is natural gas altered for transportation aboard special tankers. When cooled to minus 259 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 162 Celsius), the gas changes into liquid and shrinks to less than 1/600th of its original volume.

Upon arrival at a terminal, the LNG is returned to a gaseous state and fed into pipelines.

The United States has five operating LNG import terminals -- four onshore facilities in Massachusetts, Maryland, Louisiana and Georgia’s Elba Island, and one floating terminal off the Louisiana coast.

Several others have been approved and applications have been submitted to build more than 30 terminals.

LNG accounts for less than 3 percent of total U.S. natural gas supplies, but is forecast to increase to 17 percent by 2030.

The United States will need to import more LNG to keep up with growing demand for natural gas, especially from electric generating plants.

The Energy Department is forecasting that LNG imports this year will reach 840 bcf, up from 580 bcf last year, and then soar to 1.02 trillion cubic feet in 2008.