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Gas plant, partners, celebrate start-up

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry visits Dominion Cove Point
U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, flanked by Dominion officials, tours the company's Cove Point liquefaction facility.

Lusby, MD - Approximately three months after the exportation of natural gas officially began, Dominion Cove Point officials---along with local, state and national political figures; and their overseas business partners—gathered at the Lusby plant to mark the culmination of a seven-year process. The dedication of the Cove Point Liquefaction Project was held Thursday morning, July 26 at the liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility on the Chesapeake Bay.

“It’s a new day,” declared U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who represented the Trump Administration and frequently touted the president’s tenacity in making sure the U.S. was a major player in the exportation of energy fuel. “The president is a disrupter,” said Perry. “He doesn’t make apologies for this. He is negotiating every day to put America in a stronger position.”

The multi-billion-dollar project at Cove Point created controversy from the get-go—first with the Sierra Club, which claimed the exportation of natural gas would violate a long-standing pact. Along the way other environmental groups protested, declaring Dominion’s export product would be extracted via hydraulic fracturing, known pejoratively as “fracking.” In addition to raising objections about a lack of product purity, many local residents decried the planned project due to concerns about safety, noise, traffic and pollution. In addition to air pollution, environmentalists fear harm could come to the bay’s ecology due to the frequent tanker traffic (about one vessel every four or five days) at the facility’s offshore pier.

After a series of contentious hearings, Dominion received the necessary permission from the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

“We’re very conscious of our neighbors’ concerns,” said Dominion Energy Chairman, President and CEO Thomas F. Farrell II during a tour of the facility Perry took prior to the start of the ceremony. Perry added that the Lusby facility is virtually self-contained and an 800-foot buffer surrounding the plant was “environmentally appropriate.”

During the ceremony, Executive Vice President, CEO and President of Dominion Energy Gas Infrastructure Group Diane Leopold noted $5.5 billion was invested in the liquefaction project. Referencing the five days of heavy rain that preceded the morning of the dedication ceremony, Leopold declared, "Mother Nature is smiling on Cove Point this morning.” To the government and corporate representatives from Japan and India—the nations that will be importing Cove Point’s natural gas—Leopold added, “we are grateful for our export partners.” She praised Farrell as the project’s top cheerleader, calling him “both optimistic and pragmatic.” The liquefaction project, said Leopold, created jobs and revenues, helped lower the region’s carbon footprint and protected the environment.

“Economic development is a team sport,” Maryland Secretary of Commerce Michael Gill proclaimed. Gill called the Cove Liquefaction project “tremendous, the most significant development project in the history of Maryland. It levels out the trade imbalance.”

One positive aspect of the three-year construction project that has concluded was the employment of thousands of tradesmen. North American Building Trades Union (NABTU) President Sean McGarvey commended construction and engineering contractor Kiewit for leading “a very aggressive schedule.” McGarvey also expressed pride for the partnership forged with the nonprofit “Helmets to Hardhats,” ensuring that military veterans would benefit financially from the project by being a part of the workforce.

“It [project] is a homerun for us [NABTU],” said McGarvey. “Where do we go next?”
According to a Dominion press release, the liquefaction facility has a nameplate capacity of 5.25 million tons per year of LNG, equivalent to approximately 8.3 million gallons of LNG per day. LNG exports from Cove Point are expected to expand Maryland's global exports by up to 50 percent and shrink the United States' international trade balance by $5 billion a year.

In addition to the traditional ribbon cutting—several were held to provide the many dignitaries a chance to be part of the celebration—a Zen tradition was observed to literally mark the construction project’s conclusion. Dominion Energy Vice President of LNG Operations Mike Frederick presided over the dotting of the second eye of a daruma doll. The figurine was presented by Japanese officials in 2015 when the liquefaction facility construction project began. One eye was dotted to commemorate the resolve to build the facility. The daruma was kept by Dominion staffers during construction. On July 26, Farrell joined Dominion’s partners from Japan in dotting the second eye to demonstrate the project’s completion. The daruma will be returned to Japan for a ceremonial incineration and burial.

 Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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