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Long Island Dodges the Broadwater Bullet

Written by Amy Gernon  |  21. March 2012

On March 7, Kenneth L. Wiseman, attorney for Houston-based Broadwater Energy Llc, notified the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the company had not commenced construction of the contentious underwater pipeline and floating liquefied natural gas facility nine miles off the coast of Wading River, and asked that the certificates issued for the project be terminated.  Although this news did not necessarily come as a surprise to opponents of the Broadwater project, it was still celebrated as a victory for environmental activists and residents of New York and Connecticut who did not want to see the Long Island Sound marred by a permanently moored ship that would have received two to three security-cordoned tanker deliveries each week to meet the increased energy needs of Long Islanders. 

Broadwater Energy, a joint venture of TransCanada Corporation and Shell Oil, first proposed the floating gas plant in 2004.  At the time the company suggested that having a large gas supply in the region would reduce energy costs and replace existing fuels with clean-burning gas, as well as provide some degree of consumer protection against spikes in the price of oil and gas.  The plan would require a 21.7-mile underwater pipeline extending to the existing Iroquois pipeline between Long Island and Connecticut.
 
Connecticut officials were opposed to the plan from the get-go, but it wasn’t until former Gov. David Paterson rejected Broadwater’s plan on April 10, 2009 while speaking to an audience of state and local politicians and environmentalists at Sunken Meadow State Park overlooking the Sound, that the company faced a true obstacle in bringing the project to fruition. 
 
In a decision reached on April 13, 2009, the U.S. Department of Commerce upheld Gov. Paterson’s rejection of the project, citing environmental and aesthetic grounds.  “The Department of Commerce concluded that the Project’s adverse coastal impacts outweighed its national interest, in part because its location in an undeveloped region of the Sound would significantly impair its unique scenic and aesthetic character and would undermine decades of federal, state, and local efforts to protect the region,” reads just a portion of the decision.  
 
 
The decision effectively overruled the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that cited a need for the project, which it expected to have limited and manageable environmental impacts.  The project was replaced with other energy-efficiency programs such as Long Island Power Authority’s 350-megawatt wind turbine complex off the South Shore, which is expected to be expanded to 1,400 megawatts by 2020. 
 
Following the decision of the Commerce Department, Broadwater had three alternatives: modify the plan, abandon the plan or attempt to overturn the decision through legal measures.  Ultimately, Broadwater elected to abandon the project by requesting that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission terminate the certificates related to the project. 
 
A spokesman for TransCanada said the decision was based on “changes in the Northeast gas supply.”  The changes TransCanada is referring to is the recent push for hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydro-fracking, in the Marcellus Shale region of western New York.  This harvesting method combines vertical and horizontal drilling to release natural gas from rock formations.  (For a better understanding of hydro-fracking, see National Geographic’s interactive feature detailing the process.)  To date, the full impact on the environment, public health and local economies is still being studied, as well as methods of mitigating the negative impacts. 
 
However, it is known that “fracking fluid flowback,” the fluid pumped out of a well that is subsequently separated from oil and gas, contains toxic chemical additives used during the drilling process, as well as heavy metals, radioactive materials, volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants including benzene, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene.  These same chemicals are also released during the fracking process as vertical fractures occur in the shale surrounding the well.  The release of these chemicals can result in both water and air contamination.  Environmentalists argue that the toxic contaminants released during the fracking process invalidate the claim made by the natural gas industry that this is an environmentally-friendly fuel source.
 
The Long Island Sound may have dodged a huge bullet with Broadwater’s decision to abandon their floating liquefied natural gas facility, but New Yorkers may experience an even greater threat as the natural gas industry sets its sights on Western New York.  The Public Comment Period for hydro-fracking was extended to January 11, 2012, and a moratorium on hydro-fracking is being considered by the State legislature. 
 
Broadwater’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certificates remain in effect until the commission “takes final action,” according to Craig Cano, a commission spokesman.   Despite the setbacks facing proponents of hydro-fracking and other ventures of the natural gas industry in New York, Broadwater’s decision to vacate its project in the Sound has been accepted as final. 
 
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