- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) The Coast Guard joined with representatives from Maryland and Virginia yesterday to begin assessing the risk of allowing foreign tankers to carry liquefied natural gas into the Chesapeake Bay.
The procedure is being examined as part of a Calvert County, Md., project that federal regulators are reconsidering at the urging of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.
Topics of discussion at the two-day meeting in Portsmouth include the Williams Co. plan to reactivate the Cove Point plant in southern Calvert, and the safety of permitting importation of liquefied natural gas along the Eastern seaboard in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The meeting is closed to the public.
"If we had never received a letter of intent to resume operations at Cove Point, this meeting probably would never have taken place," said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Gordon A. Loebl. "With September 11th, there's lots and lots to look at. Obviously this has become a politically charged issue."
Mr. Ridge's involvement came at the urging of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, who had criticized the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) approval in October of the reopening and expanding of the Cove Point plant just a month after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Miss Mikulski, who sent letters to Mr. Ridge, FERC, the Coast Guard, the FBI and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, wrote that the project "could create a new vulnerability to terrorism." She pointed out that the facility is within three miles of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant.
Mr. Ridge subsequently asked federal officials to move up the completion of a safety review of the project, said Susan Neely, director of communications for the Office of Homeland Security.
Miss Mikulski renewed her call on Nov. 26 for officials to "rigorously review the proposal" following Justice Department warnings about possible threats to gas plants and pipelines.
The Coast Guard has had to respond to concerns about importation of liquefied natural gas from officials elsewhere along the East Coast, all at a time when fuel demand is rising in the United States. The Coast Guard in Boston recently denied port entry to a tanker containing liquefied natural gas and later lifted the ban.
"That's a market that's expanding considerably," Cmdr. Loebl said. "Odds are pretty good that we're going to see more of these requests. And I think that's what prompted the Coast Guard to take a broader look, to use the Cove Point process as a blueprint."
Issues to be decided include whether to require moving buffers around the tankers and Coast Guard escorts for the tankers when they move into the Bay, Cmdr. Loebl said.
In October, FERC voted at a meeting in Washington to allow the Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams Co. to move forward with a $120 million project at the Cove Point liquefied natural gas plant.
The company plans to reactivate the offshore facility, which became dormant after the previous owner ceased operation, and build a fifth storage tank.
Natural gas in a vapor form would be ferried from the plant through a pipeline that runs 87 miles from Calvert to utilities in Prince George's and Charles counties in Maryland and Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia.
The pier where the product is unloaded about a mile and a quarter offshore and connected to the plant by an underwater tunnel would be refurbished to handle tankers that typically are about 1,000 feet long, according to the county.
Although company officials contend their plan is safe, residents have expressed concern that terrorists could bomb a tanker, creating a giant fireball that could touch off a nuclear disaster at nearby Calvert Cliffs.
Company officials have continued to express hope that they can get government approval in time to begin importing gas in the second quarter of 2002.

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