With the exception of the people at Sound Energy Solutions (SES), a subsidiary of Mitsubishi and ConocoPhillips, just about nobody in Long Beach wants to see a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal come to town. Mayor Bob Foster has made it clear he agrees with most residents in opposing SES's proposed terminal.
But like the villain in a bad Hollywood film who refuses to die—even after being stabbed through the heart—the project simply won't go away.
The terminal seemed to die what many thought was a natural death back in January, when city officials and Port of Long Beach's Board of Harbor Commissioners voted not to complete a costly Environmental Impact Report (EIR) because the preliminary report, in the words of City Attorney Robert Shannon, "fail[ed] to provide necessary information to the public, most critically in the area of public safety and security, as legally required."
By "public safety and security," Shannon may have been referring to widespread reports that placing an LNG terminal in Long Beach could make the port a target for terrorists, given that an explosion at the gas-processing facility could easily incinerate anyone within a one-mile radius.
LNG is a form of clean-burning natural gas that has been refrigerated to 260 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, turning it into a liquid. One gallon of LNG expands to 600 times its size when it is converted back to a gas. If it makes contact with water, LNG can expand to its original size with explosive force. To top it off, the substance is extremely flammable and is not easily extinguished due to its high burn temperature.
Because the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach combine to make the busiest port in the nation—it's already considered a major terrorist target without a highly explosive facility on the premises—any possible port destruction would have an impact on the entire country.
So, when the Board of Harbor Commissioners put a stop to the EIR, residents cheered and environmental activists declared victory.
But SES hasn't given up. In February, the company sued the city, demanding it complete the EIR process. The case is scheduled to receive a verdict in October; if SES wins, the company would have to pony up $1 million to complete the report.
And SES isn't just relying on the courts to make its case. In recent weeks, the company has aired local advertisements for the project on cable TV, urging residents to contact officials and voice their support for a completion of the EIR. In the ads, a man named Dave San Jose, a local charity organizer, tells viewers to give the LNG-terminal EIR a shot. "It deserves a fair chance," he says.
So, how are those ads working?
According to Sean Peterson, a spokesman for the mayor, not so great.
"We have received hundreds of letters and e-mails opposing the project," Peterson said, "and I'd say less than 25 in favor of it."
Peterson says just about all of the few responses the city has received in favor of the EIR's completion were from individuals or groups who participated in funding or making the ads, including SES officials and Dave San Jose himself.
Seiichi Tsurumi, vice president of stakeholder relations at SES, says the advertisements began as a response to public support for the project. "We asked a polling company to ask Long Beach about finishing the EIR, and out of 900 people surveyed, 70 percent were in favor of the project," Tsurumi says.
As far as the terrorism-threat criticism of the project: "It is very difficult to describe something that has not happened in the world," Tsurmi says. "There are 45 LNG terminals all over the world—including in Spain, which has had terrorist bombings. The target there was not the terminal; it was a bus station.
"Terrorists like soft targets, not hardened industrial facilities," he adds. "They usually hit places with a lot of body count."
San Jose, for his part, says he finds the negative response to the ads "surprising."
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"I have met hundreds of people who are for the project," he says, mentioning that the eight people who are involved in his charity all show him their support. "It is hard to get people to write in, though."
San Jose's nonprofit, Bikes 90800, repairs bicycles and donates them to local children. SES is one of the group's sponsors.
"They help sponsor different things in the city," San Jose says of the company. "But I went and learned about [LNG] and became quite a supporter of it on my own."