Maine, Canada at odds over LNG

Posted Sept. 28, 2009, at 8:17 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Leaders of Maine and New Brunswick remain deadlocked over the issue of liquefied natural gas tankers in Head Harbor Passage despite recent pledges to work together on energy issues.

During a meeting in New Brunswick last week, the New England governors and premiers of eastern Canadian provinces discussed ways to work more cooperatively to turn the region into an energy powerhouse.

That spirit of cooperation doesn’t appear to have thawed the ice jam between Maine and New Brunswick over LNG, however.

On Monday, New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham reiterated his government’s firm opposition to allowing LNG tankers to pass through Head Harbor Passage en route to LNG terminals that have been proposed for the Calais area.

“The province’s position remains unequivocal: We oppose the proposed locating of an LNG terminal in Passamaquoddy Bay because of its impacts on New Brunswick,” Graham wrote in a commentary published in the Telegraph-Journal newspaper in Saint John, New Brunswick.

“Our environment would be negatively affected, the tourism and environment-based economy of the region would suffer, and the safety and security of the region could be compromised.”

A spokesman for Maine Gov. John Baldacci said the governor has seen the op-ed piece and disagrees with some of claims made by his counterpart north of the border. For instance, more than 100 large cargo ships transit the passage safely every year, spokesman David Farmer said.

The two men discussed the issue briefly during last week’s summit but spent most of the time talking with the other leaders about areas of cooperation, such as helping bring more green and renewable energy to U.S. markets.

“We believe Maine has an international right to passage along these waters, and that’s an area where we are in deep disagreement with the government in New Brunswick,” Farmer said.

Baldacci has raised his concerns with representatives of the U.S. State Department, the Canadian government and with senior members of President Barack Obama’s staff during a recent meeting at the White House.

There are several proposals for LNG facilities on the Maine side of Passamaquoddy Bay, none of which have received regulatory approval.

Canadian officials have threatened to block any LNG tankers from using Head Harbor Passage en route to the proposed facilities on safety and environmental grounds. The projects are strongly opposed by some residents on both sides of the border who contend that Passamaquoddy Bay with its powerful tides, inclement weather and fragile ecosystem is an inappropriate location for such large facilities.

Maine and U.S. officials contend Canada has no right to interfere with ships in the waterway. Some supporters of the Maine projects have accused Canadian officials of trying to block LNG in Maine in order to protect the financial interests of a new LNG terminal in Saint John built largely to sell gas to U.S. markets. The Canaport terminal is a partnership of New Brunswick-based Irving Oil and the energy company Repsol.

The provincial government is participating as an intervenor in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s review of Downeast LNG’s application for an import facility in Robbinston. But Graham made clear in his op-ed piece that FERC has no authority over ship traffic through what he considers Canadian waters.

“Decisions on where ships are allowed to transit fall within the jurisdiction of the government of Canada alone,” he wrote.

Farmer said the governor is encouraged that New Brunswick is participating in the FERC review and hopes that the province will change its stance. But Maine’s position is firm on the issue, Farmer added.

“We can’t allow another country to determine what commerce we engage in,” Farmer said. “It’s LNG now, but it might be another commodity down the line.”

Rob Wyatt of Downeast LNG said he is optimistic that Maine and New Brunswick will continue to work cooperatively on all energy matters, including LNG. The company hopes to have a final environmental impact statement from FERC by year’s end.

“We are moving the process forward and working with everybody we can,” Wyatt said.

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