Mailbag: An Environmental Battle Mounts Over LNG Exports

Mailbag: An Environmental Battle Mounts Over LNG Exports

by | published May 30th, 2012

We’re back after three days of beautiful weather in Baltimore to celebrate Memorial Day weekend.

The mailbag received some great comments and questions last week. I felt obliged to answer one in particular – a follow-up question from a reader over the ongoing drama of natural gas exports from the United States.

Remember, if you have a question or a comment, be sure to register below and type your thoughts into the box.

Okay, question time.

Q: Since Cove Point was a working LNG import terminal in the past, can you please tell us why it is not acceptable now for it to be retrofitted as an export terminal? ~ Linda

A: Let me first put Linda’s question into context. Last week, I answered a question from Jim O. regarding the other companies – other than Cheniere Energy Inc. (AMEX: LNG) – that have filed for applications to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) from facilities around the country.

One of these facilities is Dominion’s (NYSE: D) Cove Point facility.

Constructed and certified in 1972, the terminal had been used to import natural gas from around the globe. Around the time of its construction, the Sierra Club, one of the most influential environmental non-profits in the United States, had sued to block construction of the facility.

The case was ultimately settled, but concessions were made to appease the plaintiff. One is that the Sierra Club has the right to approve or disapprove any plans to expand the existing facility, and expected that the terminal in Lusby, Maryland would remain a relatively minor import facility.

The key word here is import, because the facility was originally importing LNG from Algeria after certification in 1978. After various starts and stops over two decades, Dominion purchased the facility in 2002 with the goal of importing and storing natural gas on behalf of a number of global operators.

But then, a funny thing happened.

In the past few years, a swath of energy has been unlocked in the United States thanks to technological innovation in hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling. In fact, so much natural gas has been unlocked, that the United States now has the capacity to begin exporting natural gas to energy-starved nations around the world, where prices are six or seven times higher than they are here.

This is one profitable venture.

No wonder companies are so eager to retrofit and expand existing import facilities to ship LNG instead. And Cove Point is an ideal location, given its access to the Chesapeake Bay and direct line across the Atlantic Ocean.

There’s just one problem: The Sierra Club says that it won’t approve any expansion to the lands.

As a result, Dominion has sued the Sierra Club. The company has gone on the attack, stating that the facility will generate and support nearly 15,000 jobs, generate $1 billion in federal, state, and local taxes, and lower the U.S. trade deficit by several billion dollars a year.

These are pretty compelling arguments, but the Sierra Club might have the upper hand right now. Predictably, the Club has stated that exporting natural gas will encourage fracking and drilling, which could have significant impacts on the environment, increase the cost of domestic natural gas, and has highlighted its own power in the original agreement.

In some ways, the Sierra Club is the landlord even without holding any ownership over the property.

The Strongest Lobby in Washington

I know this is a strong point of debate, but during my time in Washington, I cultivated a strong opinion.

It is my personal opinion that there is no stronger lobby in Washington than the environmental lobby. Here’s why.

In order to construct an export facility or retrofit an existing one, a company must jump through a number of regulatory hoops. They must get acceptance from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Congress through acts of law, and a number of other administrative agencies.

Meanwhile, the environmental lobby is pushing big bucks to influence all of these regulators on what should and should not be allowed in energy production. They use a strong social and ecological message to supersede economic ones.

Even after all of those “permission slips” have been signed, even when the first construction worker is inches from dropping that first shovel into the ground, environmental groups can swoop in at the last minute, using the legal system and the courts to their advantage. Lawsuits can act as a strong deterrent here against companies and regulatory agencies. And any law suit against any company, in the end, is also a lawsuit against their shareholders.

Yet there’s no doubt that LNG exporting is going to be big business, one with strong profits for companies and investors alike.

That’s another reason why Cheniere, which has already cleared all the regulatory and legal loopholes and is ready to break ground, is still the best option in this space for now.

Still, there are external factors that underlying figures simply can’t provide. Dominion remains a strong company, one with attractive numbers to back it up. It has received authorization from the Department of Energy to export LNG, and tests are being done to determine if the company can retrofit the facility without expanding on the existing land.

Still, we’ll have to continue to watch this legal situation closely and dissect the original agreement before thinking about pushing off into the Chesapeake.



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  1. Anthony Wilson
    May 30th, 2012 at 14:46 | #1

    What happens to the world price of gas (and hence, the financial attractievness of LNG exports) if Europe and China find lots of shale gas same as N America?

  2. ron worley
    May 30th, 2012 at 14:47 | #2

    your report recommending purchasing of calls on oct bno looks to be greatly outdated and the recommendation needs to be modified….do you plan to do this?

  3. steve Bialas
    May 30th, 2012 at 14:53 | #3

    There is a new fracing method using LNG to frac with in place of water, and is having great success. What is Kent’s opinion and why isn’t more drillers using it ?

  4. eric taylor
    May 30th, 2012 at 15:12 | #4

    Fraking is a major issue with the Sierra Club, and until the environmental laws are clarified, which means big compromizing
    from the corporate world, and business’ don’t like to be bossed around
    by anybody, there will be a stalemate. Fracking is moving all around the world, which may make over investing in shipping-LNG a risky
    business that more depends on having a technology edge, and closer
    shipping access to be sucessful long term. For now we have the technology edge, but are selling oil field services to the highest
    bidders. Haliburton, and other oil field service companies may be a
    better place to invest short term.

  5. den
    May 30th, 2012 at 15:30 | #5

    Kent are you aware of the battle that has been going on in the West at Coos Bay Or. over the development of an LNG facility, Import at first, now that lic. have been withdrawn, and now applying for export.
    Here is some current info about that.


    ***Catching up with LNG Updates***

    * Check out our latest blog updates at and find out “Why Jordan Cove LNG is a bad investment” – See Parts 1 & 2

    * Coos Bay City Council approved a Jordan Cove Reimbursement Agreement at their meeting on Tuesday, May 15th, but not without some concerns being raised first by citizens. The Agreement can be found here on pages 54-63:
    You can’t blame the City for wanting to be reimbursed for any time they spend dealing with the Jordan Cove project, but does signing this agreement raise other issues? Stay tuned for more info on this… [Thanks Richard for letting us know about this. I am happy to forward on to anyone the letter I sent to the City.]

    * U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) stated that the COE would not accept a new Clean Water Act/Rivers and Harbors Act application from Pacific Connector until after the FERC produces a new draft environmental impact statement.
    [All our letters are paying off – A BIG ‘Thank You’ to Everyone who has helped with this….]

    * THE RACE IS ON – As more and more companies join the list of proposed LNG projects wanting to Export LNG. (See more info on this below) –

    * Oregon LNG filed an application with the U.S. Department of Energy requesting authorization to export LNG to Free Trade Agreement nations from its proposed LNG terminal site in Warrenton, Ore.

    * The World Editorial board put out a challenge to environmental groups in its May 10th editorial, “Suing agencies isn’t a clean industry.” The paper suggest that instead of fighting job creating projects in Coos County, environmentalist should propose some alternatives….
    We suggest the World editors check out –
    (See more comments on this below)

    Upcoming Events

    Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012: 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM – Be Wattsmart Workshop at the Mill Casino, Salmon Room – West, 3201 Tremont Avenue, North Bend, OR 97459 – Seating is limited, register now! See details to workshops here in Coos Bay and across the State and register at –

    Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012: 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. – Citizens Against LNG meeting at the North Bend Library, 1800 Sherman Ave. in North Bend. Some of us will be coming from the Be Wattsmart Workshop, so meeting may start late….

    Thursday, May 31, 2012: 2 p.m. Practice Tsunami Evacuation Drills to be held in Coos Bay, North Bend, Barview, Charleston and Empire. The drills will follow new evacuation routes recently released by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI).
    For more information on the drill, go to

    Attention Pacific Northwest! Are You Prepared For The Shift in the Cascadia Subduction Zone?
    Uploaded by DoveDancing on Feb 14, 2012
    This is a little video put out by the Oregon state government about the reality of a probable M9 Quake on the slip fault where the Juan de Fuca plate meets the North American plate. This will be felt far and wide and will cause a Tsunami. It is 50 years overdue and the mantle is shifting… It is only a matter of time. Are you prepared?


    * On 5/16/2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Washington D.C., issued this document:
    Filing Type: Telephone Conversation or Electronic Mail Memo
    Description: Bi-Weekly Conference Call re Jordan Cover Liquefaction Project under PF12-7.
    Click here:

    On the call notes found at the link above it states –

    “FERC staff reviewed a draft pre-filing request letter from Pacific

    “FERC staff noted that Michelle Hanson from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
    (COE) stated that the COE would not accept a new Clean Water Act/Rivers and
    Harbors Act application from Pacific Connector until after the FERC produces
    a new draft environmental impact statement. Pacific Connector is arranging a
    conference call with Ms. Hanson to discuss this matter. Pacific Connector
    believes FERC’s regulation require the submittal of a COE permit application
    concurrent with the filing of its FERC application.”

    “Pacific Connector summarized a meeting they recently had with Doug Young of
    the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”


    * On 5/10/2012, the following Filing was submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Washington D.C.:
    Description: Comments of Janet Stoffel re the application requesting the Department of Energy issue an order granting authorization to export LNG under PF12-7.
    Click here:


    News Updates

    These News Article Clips and Links are below
    1) Suing agencies isn’t a clean industry
    2) County studies natural-gas pipeline
    3) Gulf LNG, Oregon LNG and SB Power Solutions File for DOE LNG Export Authority
    4) LNG Canada Project Announced
    5) Excelerate Energy Announces Lavaca Bay LNG Project
    6) South Korea’s KNOC eyes US shale gas companies, assets: executive
    7) Joint ventures and partnerships open door to global liquefied natural gas market:


    NOTE: Local citizens have been promoting clean industries all along but it is kind of hard to do anything with Coos Bay banning wind turbines and SCDC trampling over the SDAT report. Coos County has lots of potential and opportunity for clean, green, environmentally friendly developments and jobs but you have to fight a lot of industry thugs in order to get there… In any event, we suggest the World editors check out –
    -and / or-

    Citizen Advocating Vital Energy Generation Individual Ratepayers Love – Yes, I am a CAVE GIRL and proud of it!! (Just in case any of those fine individuals out there calling me that wanted to know….)

    Suing agencies isn’t a clean industry
    Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012 11:00 am | (21) Comments
    The World Editorial Board

    There’s no doubt that preserving habitat, air and water are vital concerns. For that reason, it’s understandable that people from all over are scrutinizing proposals for a liquefied natural gas plant and a coal terminal on Coos Bay.

    But we wish they’d show their concern in some positive way, such as proposing some viable alternatives.

    Cascadia Wildlands’ incoming executive director, Bob Ferris, recently took aim squarely at Coos County in vowing to fight logging in the Elliott State Forest, as well as exports of coal and liquefied natural gas. He contends all three projects will result in the environmental ruin of the South Coast.

    And this week, environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told a Portland rally that ‘coal is crime.” He predicted shipping coal to Asia will have far-reaching environmental effects and corrupt our government agencies.

    If jobs-starved Coos County shouldn’t rely on wood, gas and coal to enliven our economy, what would these activists suggest we do instead?

    Let’s say Ferris and Kennedy are right, and all three projects are bad for our area, and for other areas, too. What, then, shall we do to drive economic development? What is Cascadia Wildlands’ agenda to create environmentally friendly jobs? Economic development and environmental awareness aren’t mutually exclusive, so let’s hear some alternatives.

    Our economy is badly broken, and we need projects that will bring jobs back to the area. While you can’t blame an environmentalist for making the environment his chief concern, you can expect more from him than a deafening drumbeat of ‘No.”

    Ferris and Kennedy are skilled advocates. Wouldn’t it be nice if some of that savvy went into proposing projects instead of stopping them?

    Copyright The World – All Rights Reserved


    NOTE: The World welcomes letters – Email them at


    And then there were…THREE – Coos County studies yet another natural gas pipeline proposal for the area….
    16-mile section would funnel gas from Coos Bay to Bandon
    County studies natural-gas pipeline
    By Daniel Simmons-Ritchie, The World | Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2012

    COQUILLE — Coos County has begun studying routes for a 16-mile section of pipeline that would funnel natural gas from Coos Bay to Bandon.
    The county awarded NW Natural a contract to find three routes and present them to the commissioners by August. The engineering firm will then design the pipeline. Construction would begin in 2014.

    The 4-inch pipeline is part of a project to bring natural gas from Roseburg to Coos County. The initial pipeline was built in the early 2000s, but the Bandon lateral was stalled during a contractual dispute between the construction company and the county.
    Also at this week’s county commissioners meeting:….
    (Read more at link above)

    Gulf LNG, Oregon LNG and SB Power Solutions File for DOE LNG Export Authority
    Posted: May 16, 2012

    Gulf LNG Liquefaction Company, LLC (GLLC) has filed an application (Docket No. 12-47-LNG) with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) requesting authorization to export, on behalf of itself or as agent for others, domestically produced LNG from the Gulf LNG terminal in Pascagoula, Miss., to nations having Free Trade Agreements with the U.S. (FTA nations). GLLC seeks to export 11.5 million tons per year of LNG (approximately 1.5 Bcf/d) over a 25-year period.

    LNG Development Company, LLC (d/b/a Oregon LNG) has filed an application (Docket No. 12-48-LNG) with DOE requesting authorization to export, on behalf of itself or as agent for others, LNG from its proposed LNG terminal site in Warrenton, Clatsop County, Ore., to FTA nations. Oregon LNG seeks to export up to the equivalent of 456.25 Bcf/year for a 30-year period.

    SB Power Solutions (SPS) has filed an application (Docket No. 12-50-LNG) with DOE requesting authorization to export domestically produced and previously imported LNG from various U.S. LNG terminals located on the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Coasts to FTA nations located in the Caribbean, Latin America and South America. SPS seeks to export up to the equivalent of 550,000 metric tons (approximately 0.043 Bcf) per year for a 25-year period.

    These applications can be found on DOE’s website.

    LNG Canada Project Announced
    Posted: May 16, 2012

    Shell Canada Limited and its partners Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS), Mitsubishi Corporation, and PetroChina Company Limited announced on Tuesday that they are jointly developing a proposed LNG export facility near Kitimat, British Columbia. Shell has a 40-percent working interest in the LNG Canada project, with KOGAS, Mitsubishi and PetroChina each holding 20-percent. The proposed LNG Canada project includes a gas liquefaction plant and facilities for the storage and export of LNG, and will initially consist of two LNG processing trains, each with the capacity to produce six million tonnes of LNG annually, with an option to expand the project in the future.

    Read Press Release on this here:
    Excelerate Energy Announces Lavaca Bay LNG Project
    Posted: May 15, 2012

    Excelerate Energy L.P. has announced it is developing a floating liquefaction facility in Port Lavaca, TX, between Galveston and Corpus Christi, on the Texas Gulf Coast. The Lavaca Bay LNG project will be the first floating liquefaction facility in the U.S. and will be designed to export LNG by 2017. Excelerate expects expedited FERC approval for the project since the Port Lavaca location was previously approved by FERC for the Calhoun LNG import terminal, which was not built. Read more in the MarketWatch article.

    South Korea’s KNOC eyes US shale gas companies, assets: executive
    By Meeyoung Cho
    SEOUL | Mon May 14, 2012 11:42am EDT

    (Reuters) – Korea National Oil Corp (KNOC) is looking to acquire U.S. shale gas companies or assets as it seeks to secure liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies to feed rising demand from the fourth-largest economy in Asia.

    KNOC KOILC.UL expects to spend an amount similar to what it had set aside last year – $3.4 billion – on overseas oil and gas assets, Vice President Chang Sung-jin said in an interview for the Reuters Global Energy & Environment Summit.

    South Korea’s state oil firm also aims to boost output by 80,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) to 300,000 boepd by adding new assets by the end of 2012 and raise it to 500,000 boepd by 2017.

    “Given the economics and the possibility of bringing LNG in to domestic markets, we are carefully considering acquiring assets or companies to enter the U.S. shale gas sectors,” Chang said, in an emailed response to questions.

    “We are also studying the feasibility of entering the Chinese shale gas business.”……
    (Read Entire article at link above)

    Joint ventures and partnerships open door to global liquefied natural gas market:
    Ernst & Young

    Foreign powerhouses compete for share of Asian demand

    (Calgary, 10 May 2012) Joint ventures (JVs) and partnerships could make all the difference between capitalizing on global liquefied natural gas (LNG) opportunities in Asian demand markets and losing ground to foreign suppliers, says a new Canadian Ernst & Young report.

    According to the new report, Rising to new challenges in the face of global demand: liquefied natural gas in Canada , countries around the world are capitalizing on Asian LNG demand and fast becoming powerful threats to potential Canadian market share.

    “Total Pacific basin demand is expected to rise from 120 million metric tonnes today to 241 million metric tonnes per annum in 2020, and exporters in Australia, Russia, Malaysia and Qatar have been quick to respond,” says Lance Mortlock, of Ernst & Young’s oil and gas practice. “These countries are already well on track to developing the necessary infrastructure to fulfill the needs of this expanding market — leaving little room for Canada.”

    Seven US LNG terminals have also been filed for application, which, if approved and built, could put them ahead of Qatar in export capacity, changing the regional dynamics in Asia significantly.

    While Canada has immense domestic gas reserves, it lacks the population to consume supply. Now add reduced demand from the US — Canada’s only external customer — following the shale boom as well as sustained low gas prices, and Canada is facing limited opportunities for LNG development.

    “To avoid losing out on opportunities in emerging demand markets, Canada must accelerate infrastructure development, seek new capital sources, and tie down long-term customers,” says Mortlock.

    An estimated CDN$50-billion industry investment is expected to be needed over the next 5 to 10 years if Western Canadian producers are to take full advantage of opportunities in Asia. But LNG projects can be too big and too risky for companies to tackle on their own.

    Pursuing JVs and partnerships will allow Canadian companies to accelerate their LNG plans. However, with JVs and partnerships also come many complexities. Companies must consider the various aspects of their business operating model, including strategy, business processes, information systems, structure and governance, leadership people management and corporate culture. All will be critical for success.
    – 30 –

    About Ernst & Young
    Ernst & Young is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. Worldwide, our 152,000 people are united by our shared values and an unwavering commitment to quality. We make a difference by helping our people, our clients and our wider communities achieve their potential.

  6. May 30th, 2012 at 15:56 | #6

    As Steve stated, there is Fracing Technology, which will not harm the environment. However, the Sierra Club and its associates don’t care to listen. They will not be satisfied until the US population gives up the internal combustion engine. Regardless the logic or alternatives.

    It may be time for some consideration given to responsible stewardship of natural resources rather than the reckless eradication of any non approved mode of transportation by the Sierra Club.

    Maybe if the suits for expansion included not only the corporate petitioners but also the unemployed who would benefit. Perhaps then someone would actually start looking for a responsible working solution as opposed to a dig your heels in and say no, regardless the logic or lives affected.

  7. Robert in Canada
    May 30th, 2012 at 17:06 | #7

    Environmental groups and their brain-washed supporters will eventually cause the downfall of democratic countries.

    It’s sadly ironic that such groups are determined to destroy the only political and economic systems that allow them to pursue their goals.

  8. Ron
    May 30th, 2012 at 17:58 | #8

    Where is the funding coming from for this group. How did they get this powerful. Is some one backing it that does not have our best interest at hart

  9. Bertrand de Frondeville
    May 30th, 2012 at 18:04 | #9

    The answer is so simple that even the Sierra Club does not see it, let alone New York activists. Just bring the oil and gas industry under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act that Tricky Dick Cheney et al. led the Best Congress Money Can Buy to free them from.

    The “better” oil companies have engineers that will find answers (I know, I was one of them at Mobil), and they will have to be transparent about these answers and the “proprietary” technologies and possible cancerigen additives. But they won’t spent the talent and money unless they are regulated to do so. (see BP Macondo…)

  10. May 30th, 2012 at 18:34 | #10


    Thanks again for your informative and timely reporting on the oil and gas industry.

    The Alaska Highway Gas Pipeline has been on the drawing board since the early 1990’s. Here 20 years later, no such line exists nor is it likely that one will ever be built to the lower 48 states. The State of Alaska and the major owners of North Slope gas have been at odds over State taxes and other issues for some time but when it appeared some progress was being made in that regard the State Legislature suddenly adjourned (this is fishing season of course) with no action taken on tax reform legislation proposed by the Governor which the producers have been crying about for quite awhile.

    What is your take on this situation and are there any potential profit opportunities to look to in the near term Alaska oil/gas industry?

    Gary Hansen

  11. Donald Chastain
    May 31st, 2012 at 10:08 | #11

    I highly agree that Dominion should be able to convert its existing plant to export LNG. This is for the good of the US and will help lower our balance of payments deficit and create thousands of good paying jobs. Go Dominion!

  12. joe
    May 31st, 2012 at 11:58 | #12

    as much as i love you guys, i’m glad the environmentalists have been around as long as they have-otherwise we would have the air and water pollution just like china and other awakening economies around the world-big business has NO conscience-only a feel for profits. keep up the good work (in a tempered sort of way)

  13. eric taylor
    May 31st, 2012 at 12:20 | #13

    I checked with the Sierra Club, and they say they have found diesel
    fuel, which is carrying a known carcinogen, is just one of the many
    dangerous to the environment chemicals being used to frack the environment for gas and oil. Most fracking companies have their very
    own secret ingredients of organic and synthetic (which don’t break
    down rapidly in the environment) chemicals that would likely amaze
    any modern alchemist. My guess, is the problem of environmental sustainability will take a long time to resolve by the corporate powers that be, unless they can achieve more totalitarian powers!

  14. James Brown
    June 15th, 2012 at 14:47 | #14

    Gasfrac is the best for the environment that in use today. It’s a Canadian company. Price is way down. Time to buy I did at $9.00.

  15. Ed Nichol
    October 1st, 2012 at 23:09 | #15

    Let’s see. We sell them scrap metal, scrap paper, all kinds of fuel and in the process gut our environment while they destroy theirs. With all of the money we get we buy washing machines and Christmas toys from them. Hold on…why don’t we use our own material to build our own washing machines and our own Christmas toys? And, while we are at it we could be a lot more careful with our children’s future. Or is that too complicated.

  16. Sumflow
    December 7th, 2012 at 00:29 | #16

    Anthony Wilson :
    What happens to the world price of gas.. if Europe and China find lots of shale gas same as N America?

    The amount of world production wasted on paying for energy will decrease. Everyone will be better off with cheaper abundant cleaner energy.

  17. Sumflow
    December 7th, 2012 at 00:34 | #17

    Gary Hansen :
    Thanks again for your informative and timely reporting on the oil and gas industry.
    ..with no action taken on tax reform legislation..
    Gary Hansen

    A. If it is such a good idea why does it hinge on public money?

  18. Sumflow
    December 7th, 2012 at 00:38 | #18

    eric taylor :
    My guess, is the problem of environmental sustainability will take a long time to resolve.

    Full disclosure of fracking chemicals is a good start.

  19. Sumflow
    December 7th, 2012 at 00:39 | #19

    Ed Nichol :
    ..why don’t we use our own material to build our own washing machines and our own Christmas toys?

    Cheap labor.

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