cove point By Peter Galuszka

Protests are picking up against plans to convert a liquefied natural gas shipping facility on Maryland’s western shore of the Chesapeake Bay at Cove Point so  it can both export as well as import the product. The proposed, $3.8 billion project is owned by Richmond-based Dominion Resources.

Four protestors were arrested today for blocking the entrance to the Allegany County Courthouse in Cumberland, Md.  according to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network which has officials in suburban Washington and Richmond.

They are trying to raise concerns that the Dominion project will increase the likelihood of using controversial hydraulic fracturing for gas exports at Cove Point and lead to more greenhouse gas emissions.

The Chesapeake network is just one of a number of activist groups that are drawing attention to fracking for natural gas. The method, which yields more product from hard-to-reach geological formations, involves the use of powerful chemicals. Other worries are that wells leak and are prone to fire. According to the network’s Kelly Trout, leakage throughout the LNG conversion cycles at Cove Point and at its shipping destinations could case as much or more greenhouse gas emissions as coal.

The Cove Point issue of interest to me because I have visited written about the facility and am familiar with coal mining and burning which fracked gas is displacing. Just a few years ago, green groups correctly protested what was going on in the Appalachian coalfields with highly destructive mountaintop removal and mine deaths. There is no question that coal is a major and negative factor for the lives of its workers and the environment in general. It is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in this country.

Coal, however, is slipping in importance precisely because of the rise of fracked gas. Although gas prices have been rising recently partly because of harsh winter weather, the surprising crash in gas prices four years ago caught the energy industry off guard. A decade ago, coal had supplied half of the electricity generated in this country and that number has slipped to 35 percent.

Cheap gas has presented the U.S. with another unexpected benefit – rising energy independence. This is why Dominion is so eager to convert an aging LNG import facility in Maryland built in the mid-1970s into an export facility. It has long-term contracts already for exported LNG with Japanese and Indian utilities. Dominion bought the Cove Point facility about 12 years ago after a checkered history in which it  had been through several owners. Cove Point is one of about 20 facilities that are being proposed for LNG exports.

Cheap gas is likewise a curse and brings new uncertainty. Its economic benefits have meant that it is no longer worthwhile to invest billions in carbon capture technologies that might have allowed safer and less-polluting use of coal. Gas is also pushing back the urgency for expanding non-fossil and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

I’m of two minds on gas and LNG. On the one hand, gas beats coal hands down. It doesn’t kill as many workers, doesn’t destroy mountains and produces half of the carbon dioxide as coal.

Yet as time goes on, there’s more reason to be suspicious about fracking. There’s no certainty that the toxic chemicals used in the process will not hurt ground water. Natural gas wells do tend to leak and fires, fatalities are not uncommon. Pipelines blow up. Fracking has also been used with great success to tap previously inaccessible oil and shale oil in places like North Dakota. But that raises yet another problem: the use of unsuitable and unsafe railroad tanks cars to haul great quantities of it.

Ms. Trout provided me with material compiled by her group raising questions about leakage and Cove Point. Their research says that with a relatively low leakage point of 1.4 percent, taken over the entire LNG shipment cycle, enough methane would be released into the atmosphere that makes it about 80 percent as bad a carbon dioxide from other sources such as coal.

Cove Point would receive natural gas via pipeline from fracked gaslands in Pennsylvania and possibly Maryland or from pipelines running from Louisiana. At the Bay facility, it would be processed, cooled to minus 265 degrees Celsius, but in huge Thermos-style tanks aboard ship which would travel halfway around the world. In Asia, the LNG would be warmed back into gas, processed and used for fuel. This, she says, presents plenty of opportunities for leaking.

It very well could be. I have no data supporting or refuting the points. Meanwhile, the protests grow stronger and the arguments become more complicated.

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11 responses to “Protests Pick Up Against Bay LNG Exports”

  1. The National Review (2/24/14 issue) contains an interesting article on the collapse of green energy in Europe. The higher costs of green energy has put European companies at a competitive disadvantage against American ones. The politicos are abandoning Kyoto’s dreams in favor of fracking.

    The green energy folks need to stop being moral scolds ala Carrie Nation, and become disrupters. Find a way to produce wind and solar at price points below those of fossil-fuel generated energy. But the green energy people are generally not business people or engineers, but just activists. They want to be morally right and control others’ behavior.

  2. One thing the anti=green-weenies seem to forget.. actually a few things:

    1. – lot of places in this world where there is no electricity and no real way to get it there – there is no rural electrification program.. in those places and yet solar is starting to make real differences in their lives –

    2. – there are thousands of inhabited islands on the planet that have no fossil fuel reserves at all.

    What they have traditionally used is imported oil.. that produces electricity at about 50 cents a kilowatt hour. solar and wind is starting to compete at that price point and there is a market for it as well as motivation to improve it, make it more efficient, etc.

    3. there are some whackos out there who believe that fossil fuels – coal and gas are limitless.. and will last for generations. some of the folks are the very same ones who jump up and down about leaving their kids generations in debt … from too much spending but don’t seem to worry about our continuing dependence on fossil fuels.

    I’m no dreamer on this. SOLAR and wind are wafer thin slices of the energy density found in fossil fuels… but why the whole issue has to become yet another partisan divide is beyond me.

    solar/wind will force more focus on energy efficient devices.. whereas as long as fossil fuels are plentiful – there is far less interest in efficiency as well as head-in-the-sand attitudes towards what impacts burning fossil fuels might b having on the world we live in.

    having said all of that – my view of the fracking rukus is what appears to me to be the revenge of the green weenies… for no good purpose.

    the only green weenies who are truly righteous live off the grid and only use human powered vehicles. Don’t laugh – that about 2 billion people but few of them wear North Face outerwear.

    1. If the tech industry operated the same as the greens, we’d be doing word processing on Wang terminals or, maybe, a DOS-based PC.

      There’s an interesting article on Uber in BusinessWeek. Uber sought to disrupt the taxi industry and seems to be making progress. Why don’t the greens take the same approach? Why can’t all of those scientists and engineers concerned about global warming find ways to cut the cost of solar and wind energy below Dominion’s prices for fossil fuel generated electricity? I think it would be great to move to renewable energy. But the U.S. needs abundant, low-priced renewable energy if we are to have economic growth. Working on that goal seems a helluva lot more green than protesting.

      The greens aren’t about renewable energy and economic growth. They are about judging others and forcing low growth on the economy. I see no reason to cheer that.

      1. Perhaps you missed this:

        ” Utilities seem indispensable. Yet suddenly there is talk on Wall Street of a looming “death spiral” for the business, with solar power being the culprit.”

        is the WSG “scolds” or clueless “green weenies”

  3. cpzilliacus Avatar

    Four protestors were arrested today for blocking the entrance to the Allegany County Courthouse in Cumberland, Md. according to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network which has officials in suburban Washington and Richmond.

    Rather far from Dominion’s proposed LNG terminal at Cove Point, which is in Calvert County.

    Did the nice people from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network take a wrong turn someplace?

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    They have protested at Cove Point and in Baltimore. I think the Cumberland event was held because it is close to areas where gas is or may be fracked.

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    So, after decades of carping about America’s dependence on foreign energy we finally find a way to become energy independent. And we … ship it in raw form overseas? Export natural gas and import computers. Brilliant. Absolutely freakin’ brilliant.

    1. I have the same view but what would you say if someone told you that it’s not your gas and who or where it gets sold is none of your business but instead the business of the property owner and his “rights”?

  6. “In Va. politics, renewable energy dwarfed by big utility”

  7. larryg Avatar

    there’s another irony … worth observing.. (at least in my mind).

    wind/solar are fundamentally incompatible as complements to coal and nuclear because it takes quite a bit longer for coal/nuclear to ramp up or down in their production – such that wind/solar actually perform as input to the grid more like unwanted surges or voltage drops. And the utilities, rightly, don’t want them on that basis.

    The current “renewable energy” portfolio is problematic in it’s current implementation.

    but natural gas, unlike coal and nukes, can change quickly – as quickly as it takes to feed more gas into the boiler or slow it down.

    It’s the perfect complement to other sources that are variable.

    Natural gas plants have other huge advantages over Nukes and Coal in that you can put them virtually everywhere and they can be sized smaller for more distributed needs.. and in areas where pollution from coal or dangers from Nukes would not be feasible.

    A well-designed gas-solar-wind system would be virtually computer operated similar to a residential dual fuel furnace that runs on heat pump or natural gas depending on the outside temperature.

    the “thermostat” would be a centralized local grid computer that would use whatever wind/solar was available and “top it off” with natural gas.

    it would instantly turn up or turn down the natural gas generator according to the instantaneous performance of the wind/solar generators.

    If this system were integrated with Nukes – weather forecasts could be used to ramp up or down – the slower responding Nukes to provide “just-in-time” base power.. supplemented with nat gas at levels determined by what was available from wind/solar.

    We have this bounty of natural gas – as a bridge to a future where we may not have as abundant fossil fuels as we have now.

    yet, we currently, operate as if fossil fuels are not finite and ignore the impact on climate.

    Nat Gas should, in my view, be viewed as a much more important resources than just something we can burn instead of coal or worse, just export it for profit. It’s a strategic asset to this country and an opportunity to upgrade our grid … it’s much more valuable than we are treating it – again in my view.

  8. I don’t see how the U.S. can continue to prosper without a broad variety of energy sources. And some of them need to be renewable. But as Europe has discovered, energy must be affordable to foster economic growth.

    What I still don’t understand is why the alternative energy people don’t think like many other new technology companies. Some need to believe they can deliver renewables at prices less than non-renewables. If I knew anything about science and engineering, I’d be figuring out how to harness the Gulf Stream. I saw a program on TV where a huge transport ship that had been sunk by a German U-Boat in 1942 was found hundreds of miles from where it was sunk because of the Gulf Stream. With all the engineers in Virginia, why cannot a couple figure out how to accomplish this task?

    And I agree that we are nuts for allowing natural gas to be exported. Uncle Sam should slap a huge export tax on natural gas. But both parties worship the financial services sector.

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