NEW YORK TIMES: Battle in the Sound: “The strength and unanimity of Long Island's opposition to the project's developers, Broadwater Energy, have been impressive…”: “…Broadwater is no small-bore enemy. It is a partnership of the TransCanada Corporation and Shell, two of North America's largest energy companies.” (ShellNews.net) Posted 14 May 05
The chorus of local opposition to a floating, Queen-Mary-size natural gas operation in the middle of Long Island Sound grew even louder last week, when the Suffolk County Legislature voted overwhelmingly to oppose the project and hire lawyers to fight it.
The strength and unanimity of Long Island's opposition to the project's developers, Broadwater Energy, have been impressive; there is nothing like a huge, scary energy project in our own backyard to get our protective instincts up. But Long Islanders opposed to Broadwater might want to guard their ammunition and use it wisely - this could be a long struggle. Here's why:
First, Broadwater is no small-bore enemy. It is a partnership of the TransCanada Corporation and Shell, two of North America's largest energy companies. Huge global concerns like these have invested heavily in the supply side of the booming natural gas industry overseas, and are looking to assure their profits by expanding their ability to sell in the United States. The Broadwater proposal - a $700 million floating platform to take shipments of gas from all over the world and pump them into the hungry Northeast energy market - is only one of dozens seeking approval around the country.
Second, it seems clear that this country will be importing ever greater quantities of liquefied natural gas in coming years. Demand is soaring as gas supplies in North America have leveled off; the potential profits to gas importers are enormous. As a recent Harvard study pointed out, liquefied natural gas is cheap - roughly $2.50 to $3.50 per thousand cubic feet, compared with $7 for pipeline gas - and costs could go even lower as technology improves. With numbers like that, it seems unlikely that an outfit like Broadwater will be easily turned away.
But Broadwater's opponents need not panic just yet. Some people fear that the Bush administration wants eventually to change the law to give federal regulators power to overrule state and local objections in choosing sites for operations like Broadwater. But such worries seem premature. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has only begun considering the Broadwater proposal, and the administration is not presently seeking to deprive New York State - or any other state for that matter - of the powers it has under existing federal laws (the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act among them) to veto plans like Broadwater's.
And while Long Islanders seem overwhelmingly set on saving their Sound, other communities, like Everett, Mass., near Boston, have lived with liquefied natural gas plants for years, more or less peaceably. The odds are good that companies will succeed in building or expanding liquefied natural gas operations in receptive communities, particularly on the Gulf Coast, thus taking the pressure off places like Long Island.
Finally, Broadwater's opponents can take comfort in knowing that the company's efforts to win local support have so far been stunningly clumsy and ineffective. Its offer of $15 million a year as "payment in lieu of taxes" to the Town of Riverhead if the project went through was soundly rejected; the town supervisor called it "hush money." It tried to sway the Suffolk Legislature by calling local residents who supposedly supported the plan and patching their calls through to legislators; the Legislature's presiding officer, Joseph T. Caracappa of Selden, informed a Broadwater representative that such boneheaded lobbying was "not appreciated."
In this ever-more-heated debate, moments like those are entertaining. But such satisfaction is not what Broadwater's opponents should be looking for. This proposal is one element of a broader array of energy issues. The country wants power, and it has to come from somewhere. The sky may not be falling, but it certainly is warming. Natural gas is cleaner than oil and coal, but its cost has recently tripled. Fight and defeat too many projects like Broadwater, and the economics of nastier forms of energy may suddenly become more enticing.
The Broadwater struggle, at its heart, is simply about where to place the various parts of the national gas distribution system. In heavily industrial, heavily populated areas that don't mind them? In the widest part of our precious Long Island Sound? In Canada? In the Gulf of Mexico? These decisions should be the product of an honest and transparent debate, one that Long Islanders are more than capable of leading.
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