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LNG plans pit city against city

R.I., Mass. officials debate sites at sea

WASHINGTON -- The battle over liquefied natural gas terminals has pitted one New England coastal community against the other.

Determined to fight the proposed LNG tank expansion in Providence, officials are quick to point to Gloucester, Mass., where Neptune LNG has proposed an offshore facility.

''Seems like the best hope is the new offshore proposal in Gloucester," US Senator Lincoln Chafee, a Republican from Rhode Island, told federal regulators during a recent meeting.

But in the North Shore city, opposition is growing, and Mayor John Bell has a curt response to his Rhode Island neighbors.

''Good try," said Bell. ''But it's not going to solve the problem. It's just going to transfer the problem to another coastal community. The ports should be working together, not working against each other."

The offshore LNG proposals -- at least two have been mentioned for Gloucester and one for Long Island Sound off Connecticut -- are not an easy substitute for onshore facilities, such as those proposed for Providence and Fall River.

''There are certain aspects of onshore facilities that offshore facilities have a hard time duplicating," said J. Mark Robinson, director of energy projects for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during a meeting with Rhode Island officials.

That view irks Rhode Island officials, who say they believe the federal commission considers KeySpan's plan to expand the existing waterfront terminal at Providence's Fields Point as a leading option.

''We've been told that it's not viable to go offshore," said Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch. ''I don't agree with that."

An offshore docking facility in Gloucester, however, would bring tankers into waters where fishermen have been making a living for nearly 400 years. As many as 150 vessels fish for lobster and groundfish in the 10 square miles just south of Gloucester.

The Rhode Islanders probably mean no harm, said US Representative John Tierney, a Democrat from Massachusetts, adding, ''They mean only good things for Rhode Island. But we have to determine what the energy need is for this region, and what is the best fuel to meet that need."

He and Bell said they are unhappy that Governor Mitt Romney has indicated initial support for the offshore proposals, and they said they are trying to persuade him to oppose any Gloucester project.

If LNG is the energy answer for New England, the proposed offshore terminals only fill part of the bill. Under those plans, tankers would dock at the platform, pump out cold liquefied natural gas, and, as the fuel is warmed, turn it into gas and send it through a pipeline to customers.

Unlike onshore terminals, the offshore platforms have no storage space for large amounts of gas in its liquid form -- something federal officials said New England needs in order to meet periods of high-energy demand or emergencies. Because of the region's geology, natural gas cannot be stored underground in New England, so it must be stored in its liquid form in above-ground tanks.

The Coast Guard has jurisdiction over offshore proposals and would review the Gloucester proposals. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approval authority over onshore projects.

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