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Energy Projects Drive Improvements in Environmental Impact Assessment
Rapid growth in energy production and transmission sectors has increased the need for offshore fuel ports and pipelines. Rising fuel prices in recent years have increased the demand for non-traditional sources, including renewable energy sources (e.g. wind, wave, current), as well as more creative supply and delivery methods, such as Liquified Natural Gas (LNG).  In New England alone there are several proposals for LNG ports and gas pipelines. Increased scrutiny and heightened publicity of these projects is driving increased efficiency in the review process, and a more thorough assessment of potential impacts.

LNG Tanker and Buoy SystemIncreased efficiency of review has been prompted by the tight timelines on which these projects run. There is strong regional demand for energy, and there is competition between the applicants that demands a tight schedule. Review of these projects falls under the Deepwater Port Act, which requires completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) within 333 days of submission of a Project Application by a proponent. Because the review process is relatively fast, Special Review Procedures have been established. Under the Special Review Procedure, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA), the lead federal agency (U.S. Coast Guard) and the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) Office are able to conduct a coordinated review allowing a single document to serve simultaneously as both the EIS under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under MEPA. This has greatly increased efficiency in that there is one overall review rather than separate processes.

LNG Tanker - View from the BridgeAlong with increased efficiency of review, the heightened attention to energy projects also is driving a more thorough assessment of potential impacts. Potential environmental impacts on marine resources, including noise-related impacts on threatened and endangered marine mammals, disruption of benthic habitat, and impacts on already stressed commercial fish populations are of concern and need to be assessed in a complete and thorough fashion. For example, underwater noise caused by generators can affect the endangered Right Whale; construction of gas pipelines can disrupt migration patterns for lobster and other mobile species; and seawater uptake can cause entrainment of fish eggs and larvae. Short-term construction impacts need to be assessed and monitored as well.  Close cooperation and clear communication with representatives from natural resource protection agencies and the public is the key to addressing such concerns. Increasingly thorough review, including a review of the latest research on marine resources at risk and likelihood of impact, provides decision-makers and the public with the information needed to make informed decisions on whether to permit these projects.

Thorough review and competition associated with these projects is also promoting improvements in technology aimed at reducing environmental impacts. For example, a recently proposed LNG deepwater port project included a retrofit of LNG tanker cooling systems such that seawater uptake and discharge can be reduced by 95%. This greatly reduces entrainment of fish eggs and larvae, and minimizes thermal discharge to marine waters. 

Woods Hole Group scientists have worked on a number of energy transmission projects including the HubLine Gas Transmission Pipeline and a proposed LNG Deepwater Port and pipeline. In both instances, a thorough and unbiased project review was prepared within an extremely tight timeframe.  Project success was achieved with sound science and close partnering with stakeholders and A&E partners.

Heidi Clark, Ph.D.

Heidi Clark, Ph.D., Environmental Scientist
Ms. Clark is an environmental scientist with extensive experience in coastal ecology, environmental assessment, and habitat restoration. She has twelve years experience in environmental science and consulting, with projects ranging from environmental damage assessment to seagrass restoration to dune revegetation. Ms. Clark remains active in coastal scientific research as well. Ms. Clark has MFS and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University.

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