From Off the Coast of Massachusetts: A Cautionary Tale About Natural Gas Infrastructure

Seth Kaplan

The front page of the Boston Globe last week presented a powerful, timely and cautionary tale about  two liquefied natural gas terminals  that sit off the coast of Gloucester and Salem. Those terminals are the tangible reminder of a massive push undertaken by energy industry insiders to build such terminals.  The intensity of that push, which began to build around 2002, becoming most intense during the 2004  to 2007 period and then petering out in the years since, contrasts sharply with the reality described in the Globe article: that those two offshore terminals have sat idle for the last two years.

That push to build LNG import facilities, which was such a mania in energy industry circles circa 2005, yielded some crazy ideas, like the proposal to hollow out a Boston Harbor Island and the infamous Weavers Cove project in Fall River. The offshore terminals, while the least bad of those proposals, reflected short sighted thinking detached from careful regional planning.  Both in terms of the need for these facilities and design decisions like regulators not forcing the projects to share one pipeline to shore instead of (as they did) twice disturbing the marine environment to build two duplicative pieces of infrastructure.

Today, the hue and cry is no longer about LNG, instead we are bombarded with impassioned demands for more natural gas pipelines as well as more measured discussions of the need for “smart expansions”. Will we have the collective intelligence to be smarter and more careful this time? Will the permitting process force consideration, as the law requires, of alternatives that make better use of existing infrastructure and pose less risk to the environment and the wallets of customers? Fixing natural gas leaks and becoming much more efficient in our use of gas is a key “supply strategy” that needs to be on the table and fully examined before committing to new pipelines.

And as it so often is, the overarching issue here is protecting future generations by addressing the climate issue. Science and prudent energy analysis, makes it clear that we need to put ourselves on a trajectory to end the burning of fossil fuels, including natural gas by the middle of this century. Given this reality every proposal to build massive and long-lived facilities to import more of those fuels must be viewed with great skepticism.

Focus Areas

Climate Change




Energy Efficiency

3 Responses to “From Off the Coast of Massachusetts: A Cautionary Tale About Natural Gas Infrastructure”

  1. Well, the impassioned hue and cry to import LNG still exists in Maine! Downeast LNG at Robbinston, Maine, on international Passamaquoddy Bay is still pursuing its FERC permits to import.

    Even though Canada prohibits LNG ship passage into and through Passamaquoddy Bay, even though Downeast LNG’s proposed jetty and pier is 3,000-feet longer than Maine allows (and Maine has made that clear on the FERC docket), even though the public has unrestricted right to use the shoreline at the terminal and jetty, Downeast LNG continues to throw its money at their proposal.

    Who in their right mind would invest in constructing such a boondoggle, even if they were to obtain the required federal and state permits? The answer is “no one.”

  2. Additional goofball ideas that LNG projects on Passamaquoddy Bay in Maine have produced:

    Quoddy Bay LNG proposed, in the event of an LNG disaster, to evacuate the City of Eastport by either 1) helicopter, or 2) a temporary bridge that would take 1-hour to put into place during the emergency.

    Downeast LNG is proposing:
    1) To construct 1.76-miles of impervous galvanized steel plate “vapor fence,” with 1-mile of 30-feet-tall vapor fence along the site perimeter — including 1/2-mile along highway US-1 being 30-feet tall.

    2) Three more vapor fences (25-feet-tall and 20-feet tall) inside the outside one, to prevent LNG vapor from a release from leaving the property fence line, as required by the US Dept. of Transportation.

    Their LNG vapor dispersion modeling indicates that hazardous, heavier-than-air, cryogenic, flammable LNG vapor would engulf areas of the beach used by the public at the terminal property as well as on neighboring beach propery. They do not propose a vapor fence to prevent that from happening.

  3. Sean Mahoney

    CLF appreciates the vigilance of Save Passamaquoddy Bay in putting the plans for LNG terminals in that unique envirnoment under the scrutiny of economic, environmental and safety analyses. CLF continues to seriously question the appropriateness of any LNG importing facility in Passamaquoddy Bay.

    – Sean Mahoney, Executive VP & Director CLF Maine

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