By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — A federal assessment of a National Grid liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility proposed for the city’s industrial waterfront has drawn broad criticism from project opponents.
The controversial natural-gas storage project cleared another hurdle in late June when it received a favorable environmental assessment from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
The 193-page FERC report concluded that the project wouldn't significantly impact “the quality of the human environment” and offered a finding of “no significant impact” as long as a list of contingencies are met by National Grid.
The overall project includes remediating polluted land, extending and connecting a nearby natural-gas pipeline to the LNG facility, and the construction of a natural-gas liquefier. The high-intensity cooling facility would include an electric-powered booster compressor, a pretreatment system, a gas-regeneration heater, and a liquefaction train that includes heat exchangers cooled by a nitrogen-refrigeration cycle.
Project opponents say the facility would require huge amounts of power that will add to the pollution in the area and worsen climate change.
National Grid claims that the facilities is needed to meet the growing demand for natural gas, especially during winter cold spells. The project is part of larger efforts by utilities and fossil-fuel companies that want a buildout of inadequate and aging distribution networks of pipelines and compressor stations in southern New England.
Public feedback on the project ended July 25. Recent comments submitted to FERC note the failures of the environmental assessment. Air pollution and safety risks from the Allens Avenue project has residents worried about the addition of dirty emissions from the industrial waterfront, one of Rhode Island's most polluted areas.
Save The Bay, whose Fields Point headquarters is about a mile from the proposed liquefaction site, claims the FERC report doesn't disprove significant environmental impacts and lacks “high quality environmental information.”
Save The Bay says National Grid and FERC failed to consider climate-change impacts beyond the 30-year design life of the facility. Save The Bay wants more information about how the facility will address catastrophic events, such as storm surges. The environmental advocacy and education group is urging FERC to perform its own environmental assessment rather than relying on the assumptions of an engineer hired by National Grid.
“The frequency of flooding and storm impacts, in combination with sea level rise, must be specifically considered in an environmental impact statement, as the proposed new liquefaction tank is situated in an extremely vulnerable environmental location posing unlikely but grave risks to those living in close proximity to the facility,” according to Save The Bay.
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the city of Providence have yet to issue water-pollution permits. In comments to FERC, DEM wanted more information on the project’s rainwater collection and removal system.
Rhode Island’s congressional delegation requested an extension of the comment period. FERC replied that a formal extension isn't necessary, as all correspondence are reviewed and therefore new comments can still be submitted.
The Rhode Island Student Climate Coalition took FERC to task for ignoring emissions from the construction and operation of the facility, as well as emissions from the extraction and transportation of natural gas.
The student group also took offense to FERC’s statement that “there is no widely accepted standard established by international or federal policy or by a recognized scientific body to ascribe significance to a given rate or volume of (greenhouse gas) emissions.”
A letter of opposition to FERC was endorsed by Mayor Jorge Elorza, 16 members of the General Assembly, 22 local, national and regional environmental advocacy groups, and 18 local businesses and advocacy groups.
The letter notes that the project poses a long list of threats to nearby low-income neighborhoods and medical centers. In a addition to air pollution, the facility will emit greenhouse gases from its 13 megawatts of power generation. The $180 million cost will also lead to higher costs for ratepayers, according to opponents.
“Building this plant will contribute to the pollution, not cut back. In a state where 67 percent of pre-K through 12th-grade students attend schools in high-risk zones that threaten chemical leaks, gas clouds and explosions, we need clean, renewable and non-polluting energy that is equitable for marginalized communities,” according to the letter.
Two members of the General Assembly wrote FERC directly to voice their objection to the project, calling it “environmental injustice.”
“This proposal is designed to let big business make more money by siting its more dangerous infrastructure in a poor, minority neighborhood that it hopes won’t have the power to object,” wrote Sen. Harold Metts and Rep. Joseph Almeida, both Democrats who represent the South Side and Washington Park neighborhoods.
National Grid originally planned to have the liquefaction facility built and operational by 2020. But the company said it will issue an updated construction plan. Other federal permits are expected 90 days after the FERC report was issued and could come as soon as late August.