Stuck at the wrong end of North America's natural gas pipelines, Massachusetts has relied on boatloads of liquefied natural gas to supplement pipeline gas for more than 30 years. The need for LNG has spiked in recent years as power producers have turned to this fuel for the region's newest -- and cleanest -- fossil fuel electricity plants. The safest terminals for unloading LNG are offshore, far away from residential neighborhoods, so it is reassuring to see that plans for two such ports are moving ahead.
Both would be 8 miles or more from the coast, southeast of Gloucester. The owner of one would be Excelerate Energy of Texas, which for more than a year has been operating an offshore LNG port in the Gulf of Mexico. The owner of the other would be Suez Energy North America, parent company of Distrigas, the operator of the LNG terminal in Everett. With both facilities, a tanker tethered to an oversized buoy would revaporize its deep-cooled liquid and pump the gas into an existing underwater pipeline.
Excelerate's Northeast Gateway proposal has already won the approval of the state's environmental affairs secretary, in part by promising $23.5 million in mitigation funds. The money includes $4 million to minimize damage to whales and other marine mammals. Governor Romney should give his agreement to this project and, if it also passes environmental muster, to Suez's Neptune terminal.
The one drawback to offshore LNG terminals
is that they lack the land-based storage capacity of Everett or the facility proposed for Fall River. The storage capacity in Everett helps Distrigas meet
the system's winter peak needs. No one expects the new terminals to eliminate the need for the Everett facility, but the extra fuel they supply in winter should obviate the need for any new storage capacity, at Fall River or elsewhere -- including a proposal for a port on Outer Brewster Island, part of the Boston Harbor National Recreation Area. Before giving up his post in 2005, the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Pat Wood , said he saw the need for only one or two new LNG terminals in New England.
One of the Bush administration's first reactions to Sept. 11 was to stop temporarily the passage of LNG tankers through Boston Harbor to Everett. That caution reflected the risk that terrorists might attack one of the ships and subject harbor neighborhoods to a conflagration so intense that it would ignite onshore structures. Since Sept. 11, tankers have been protected by new layers of security. Approval of the offshore terminals is a way for the region to secure the LNG it needs without endangering Fall River