Canada standing tough on LNG tanker passage

Posted July 01, 2010, at 10:08 p.m.

Canadian officials are reiterating their opposition to Maine-bound liquefied natural gas tankers using Passamaquoddy Bay several weeks before state regulators hold hearings on the latest proposal for an LNG terminal in Washington County.

The Canadian consul general to New England, Neil Le Blanc, made clear his government’s rigid stance against LNG tankers in Passamaquoddy Bay in a letter sent Tuesday to Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner David Littell.

“The government of Canada continues to support the responsible development of LNG terminals in North America,” Le Blanc wrote. “However, Canada opposes the passage of LNG tankers through the waters of Passamaquoddy Bay due to the navigational, environmental and public safety risks associated with the transit of these tankers.

“The government of Canada is committed to protecting this area, widely recognized as a unique and highly productive marine ecosystem,” he wrote.

Le Blanc’s letter was intended to inform the Board of Environmental Protection that Calais LNG — a company that hopes to build an import terminal south of the city — has not received permission to transit what Canadian officials see as their territorial waters.

The BEP will hold a week of public hearings on Calais LNG’s application beginning in Calais on July 19. The majority of the hearings will feature testimony and cross-examination of witnesses and interested parties. However, the board will also hold two hearings for the general public on July 20 and July 22, both at 6:30 p.m.

The third of three companies that have eyed the Calais area for a terminal, Calais LNG has proposed building an $800 million to $1 billion facility on a 330-acre site located south of the city at Red Beach. The site features 2,800 feet of shoreline along the deep-water banks of the St. Croix River and Passamaquoddy Bay.

Canadian officials have not softened their position on LNG tankers in Passamaquoddy Bay even in the slightest in recent years despite protestations from Maine Gov. John Baldacci and federal officials in Washington, D.C.

The political impasse stems from differing interpretations of territorial boundaries and trade laws.

Reiterating his government’s position on the matter, Le Blanc wrote to Littell that the Canadian waters of the Western Passage and Passamaquoddy Bay are “internal waters of Canada and subject to the exclusive jurisdiction and regulation of the government of Canada.”

Maine and U.S. officials, meanwhile, contend that Canada has no right to interfere with ships in the waterway under international trade laws. They point out that more than 100 large cargo ships already transit those waters safely every year.

Baldacci spokesman David Farmer said Thursday that the governor “remains engaged” on the issue and has spoken personally with President Barack Obama and U.S. State Department officials about Maine’s concerns.

“We remain committed to the idea, established in international law, that says you should be able to have free commerce on those waters,” Farmer said. “The governor fundamentally disagrees with the Canadian government on this issue.”

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 relatively new LNG terminal in Saint John. The Canaport, which is co-operated by New Brunswick-based Irving Oil, was built largely to supply U.S. energy markets.

Calais LNG officials could not be reached for comment Thursday. The company also has permit applications pending with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in addition to the BEP.

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