Activists gather in DC over plans to expand Maryland’s Cove Point facility into a liquidation and export terminal as safety risks and pollution concerns remain unanswered
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
The European Union really wants U.S. natural gas. That’s according to a leaked document obtained by The Washington Post. The document reveals that part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which is a $4.7 trillion trade deal currently being negotiated between the U.S. and the E.U., will make the export of U.S. oil and gas legally binding.
But if such a deal went through, that would mean real consequences for us here in Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay. There’s a proposed massive expansion of Maryland’s Cove Point facility. That’s where natural gas is liquefied and then exported.
Here to discuss Cove Point and an upcoming July 13 rally in Washington, D.C., against this expansion are our two guests.
There you see Shilpa Joshi. She is the Maryland field organizer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. She’s also one of the organizers of the rally in D.C.
And also joining us is Josh Tulkin. He’s the director of the Maryland Sierra Club.
Thank you both for joining us.
SHILPA JOSHI, MD FIELD ORGANIZER, CHESAPEAKE CLIMATE ACTION NETWORK: Thanks.
DESVARIEUX: So, Shilpa, kick us off here. A lot of folks probably haven’t even heard of Cove Point. But this facility is backed by the company Dominion Resources. What’s your issue with their plan to expand the facility? What are going to be the effects to the local community and the environment?
JOSHI: Okay. If so Dominion Resources owns a dormant input facility for natural gas at a location called Cove Point. Cove Point is in southern Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay. It’s a sleepy beachfront community with thousands of people living right along the Chesapeake Bay. We have watermen–fishers, things like that–living right there. And what Dominion is planning on doing is turning this import facility, which used to import natural gas before the boom of fracking in our country, into a export facility to export liquefied fracked gas from the United States to places all over the world.
Concerned citizens that are living nearby have reasons that they are very alarmed by Dominion’s plans. One of these is: out of the 36 proposed export facilities in the United States right now, this Cove Point export facility is the only one near so many residents. There are thousands of people living within a four-mile radius of this plant. Dominion has not released a viable evacuation route if anything is to happen at the plant. So there are some really strong safety concerns.
Dominion has, in its own plans, agreed to erect a 60 foot high sound barrier wall, which they were initially calling a sound barrier wall, and then months later revealed would actually be a vapor blast containment wall if anything was to go wrong at the plant. So a lot of concerns have been raised not only of the air pollution, noise pollution, water pollution that would happen in that area for the immediate impacts, but also serious safety concerns for people if anything is to go wrong in this plant.
JOSH TULKIN, MD CHAPTER DIRECTOR, SIERRA CLUB: Joss, the organization that you work for, the Sierra Club, you actually sued them and lost two appeals. Can you just get us up to speed? What exactly are you challenging?
TULKIN: Sure. Back in the 1970s, the area that we’re talking about, Cove Point, was actually slated to become a state park. It’s a beautiful coastline. There was a lot of interest among amongst local residents. And at the last minute, the state had financial trouble and ended up selling the land to a company, Columbia Gas, which later then sold it to Dominion. Sierra Club members intervened, arguing that this was against the rules and in the end had a settlement with the company which created an open space called the Cove Point Natural Heritage Trust and set down very specific environmental controls to make sure that Colombian Gas and now Dominion were good environmentally minded neighbors. And amongst all of those was a limitation on the work they could do out in the water. There was the requirement that they actually docked all the ships a mile offshore, off a particular pier that they built. And most specifically, it limited the acceptable uses of the facility.
And our argument has been that exporting natural gas was never one of the acceptable uses. And we really believe that it’s obvious, because until very recently, exporting natural gas was not something that any company was even considering doing, and it was in fact illegal for many years. So, due to a bunch of complicated case law and contract technicalities, we did lose our case and lost on appeal.
But we come back to one really critical point, which is, we have the protectors of this space for more than 30 years. We have a lot of investment in it. We run an outdoor facility that thousands of people enjoy every year. And therefore we’re very sensitive to the long list of environmental concerns that Shilpa mentioned, as well as some of the larger environmental concerns. So that’s why we’ve become very invested in trying to raise concerns about many of these financial risks, and hopefully slowing down this process, so in the least it can be properly researched and let people have a chance to actually offer their public comments.
DESVARIEUX: I’m going to offer up the counterargument, ’cause you often hear people say, but what about the jobs? You know, this is going to help the local economy. It’s exactly what we need in this recession. Shilpa, what’s your response to that?
JOSHI: Yeah, I’d be happy to take that down. So in Dominion’s own application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is the federal agency in charge of authorizing or shutting down this permit, they state that there’ll be 75,075 permanent jobs at the facility. For a depressed local economy in a rural area such as Calvert County, 75 jobs is a drop in the bucket.
But let’s get into what these jobs would look like. These are highly skilled jobs coming from the engineering sector. And in Dominion’s own application to court, they state that they are not required to assign any percentage of those jobs to local residents. So what this simply means is that beyond construction jobs what we’re looking at is no–necessarily–no guarantee that any permanent jobs will go to the citizens of Calvert County.
Beyond that, we’re also seeing a huge tax revenue argument from Dominion. They’ve up and down had a huge PR campaign in Calvert and the rest of the state of Maryland saying that this would be a huge tax boon to the entire region. Well, it came out recently that they have signed what’s called a payment in lieu of work order, which means that until the gases actually come online in 2017 and goes out to ship, they do not have to give that local county any tax revenue whatsoever. So what you’re seeing is basically a tax exemption for the first three years that they’re operating in that county while continuing to be a huge burden on the roads, on all the local infrastructure, and not giving back in any way as far as jobs or money is concerned.
DESVARIEUX: Let’s look at this story and put it into a national perspective, because this is essentially about fracking. And Democrats have and–let’s be specific–President Obama has really said that fracking is going to be this bridge energy source. So, Josh, I want to get your take on why, considering we have environmental risk, health risk, all of these questions surrounding fracking, why are Democrats so keen on pushing this fracking agenda?
TULKIN: Well, I think that it’s really easy to get caught up in simple 30 second arguments. It’s a simple argument. It’s compelling. Natural gas is cleaner. We want to be good world citizens, so we’re going to export this to other countries, and maybe even reduce our carbon emissions at the same time.
The problem is that there’s very little research to actually back this up. When you look at leakage at the point of hydraulic fracturing, the energy that it takes to transfer and pipeline this to liquefy it, export it, ship it across the world, and then actually turn it into energy, a lot of the studies show this could be as–if not more–polluting than coal. So the problem is that the simple argument politics likes simple arguments, but it’s not that simple.
So what we first have to do is realize that the Democrats need to stop echoing the arguments put out by the American Petroleum Institute and other people people who are trying to take advantage of the crisis in Ukraine to push this particular agenda. And secondly, we need to slow down enough to give the public the opportunity to comment.
DESVARIEUX: Shilpa, I saw you nodding, ’cause you’re actually taking this message down to D.C. on July 13. You’re holding a rally to stop fracked gas exports. Can you just talk to us a little bit about what you’re expecting? What are you hoping to accomplish with this rally?
JOSHI: Yeah. So one thing we noticed right away is that this export facility would trigger mass amounts of fracking all over the Eastern Seaboard. I mean, Dominion in its application would like to paint it so that this gas is magically appearing at the facility. But everybody who is on both sides of this argument knows that this gas has to come from somewhere.
So what we realized right away is that this means that depressed communities in Pennsylvania, impacted communities in Ohio, as far away as Oklahoma, that are already experiencing the dangers of fracking would only have to increase a tenfold amount of that if we create an export market. So what we’re doing is we’re building a narrative, because we realize that from communities where the gas is going to be extracted to communities that will suffer from compressor stations, where the gas needs to be compressed as it travels along pipelines all the way to communities that will suffer from living right next to export stations, and then, finally, as Josh was stating, the amount of leakage, the amount of methane that is leaked into the atmosphere–methane is two times more heat-trapping than carbon dioxide. Everyone suffers when we blow the lid off of this tracking venture and start tracking a ton to export it.
We realize that there is a huge public narrative to draw and a lot of communities that we need to bring together in order to harmonize them on stopping fracked gas exports. So on Sunday, July 13, at 12:30 p.m. in front of Capitol Building, we’re hosting the largest rally that’s ever been brought together in Washington, D.C., on fracked gas exports. And we’re inviting communities from all over the East Coast, the mid-Atlantic, to join us, people from far up as Vermont, down to North Carolina, to far west as Ohio are coming to join us. We have Gulf Coast fighters, people that are fighting the LNG export facility in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, coming to speak as well. So we’re building this national narrative about this emerging energy issue in this country.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Shilpa Joshi, as well as Josh Tulkin, best of luck with your rally, and thank you both for joining us.
JOSHI: Thanks you so much for having us.
TULKIN: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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