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A regional plan for LNG

FROM PROVIDENCE to a site in Maine close to the Canadian border, New England is being eyed by at least five developers of onshore liquefied natural gas terminals in addition to the Distrigas facility in Everett. Also, a Texas firm has a plan for an offshore LNG terminal 10 miles from Gloucester. There is no question that New England needs new sources of natural gas to heat its homes and generate its electricity. But what it needs most of all is a regional plan to ensure that companies build the right number of terminals in the right places.

Unfortunately, there is no law or regulation to require that terminals be located in places that make sense for the region, not just for the companies building them. In recent testimony before Congress, Philip Warburg of the Conservation Law Foundation said the federal agencies regulating such facilities could coordinate their activities and take a regional approach under existing law. But US Representative John Tierney of Salem sees the need for a law or regulation that would require a regional overview.

The chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Pat Wood, recently cited the importance of regional planning in a letter to Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed but said timely development of new facilities required that the commission continue processing the individual proposals before it. His statement is a strong argument for Tierney and the rest of the New England delegation to act quickly in mandating a regional approach.

One risk of not having such a plan is that more terminals might be built than are really needed. This would expose more communities to the threat of terrorism and saddle government with extra security costs.

Another risk of not having a regional plan for LNG terminals is that they would be located in low-income areas desperate for any economic activity, such as the land in northern Maine owned by the Passamaquoddy tribe and not in more-central locations that would better serve the bulk of the population.

The region needs more natural gas in the form of LNG because it has hitched its fate to this relatively clean energy source at the same time that US and Canadian supplies of it have begun to tail off. For years, Distrigas has imported LNG and stored it in tanks for use in the winter when demand peaks. The proposed onshore terminals would add to this capacity. At the offshore terminal, LNG would be heated back to vapor and pumped into the region's pipeline system for immediate use.

Unless the region gets serious very quickly about increased energy efficiency and greater use of renewable sources like wind power, it is likely to need both more onshore terminals and at least one offshore. Granting them regulatory approval on a first-come, first-served basis would be a mistake. 

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