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LNG boom needs terminal sites

PASCAGOULA - In a rush to take advantage of high gas prices and low importing costs for liquefied natural gas, U.S. energy companies have been working to open LNG facilities on the nation's East, West and Gulf coasts.

But public concerns in California, Maine and Alabama over the explosive nature of the super-cooled hydrocarbon inspired some companies to start applying for terminals based offshore and away from population centers.

Two offshore terminals south of Louisiana and one onshore in Hackberry, La., already have been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, respectively.

Last month the U.S. Coast Guard put all offshore applications on hold pending an investigation into environmental concerns about the impact offshore terminals could pose to the nation's fisheries.

Now, at least in Mississippi, LNG interest is creeping back onto land.

And despite the fact Gulf LNG Energy LLC's facility would be in Pascagoula's industrial center, near Chevron's refinery complex, company officials say there's nothing to fear.

"There's a lot of stuff written about (the risk). The people that are opposed to these projects put out a lot of misinformation," said Texas resident Dee S. Osborne, president of the private investor's group that is Gulf LNG. There is "no way" the tankers could explode, he said.

But recent federal studies found that such explosions could happen, possibly triggering a firestorm more than a half-mile wide and resulting in burn damage as far as a mile away.

Osborne's assessment of LNG safety also ran contrary to the position of some experts in the security field.

In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Osborne said LNG facilities represent "low, low, low level terrorist targets." Others, including the U.S. General Accounting Office, see it differently.

Cyril Widdershoven, editor of Global Energy Security Analysis, called the tankers "especially attractive targets" to terrorists.

Until Gulf LNG's proposal for Pascagoula was announced Wednesday, the closest option being explored involved a ConocoPhillips Corp. effort to gain approval for a facility 11 miles south of Dauphin Island in Alabama. That project is now stalled, along with more than six proposed offshore facilities around the country awaiting a verdict on the technology's environmental safety.

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