Proposed expansion of operations at the Cove Point liquified natural gas terminal in Calvert County appeared to get a boost Friday with the release of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission environmental impact report.
The report by staff members at the regulatory agency concluded that the plant expansion -- with some alterations to original plans -- "would have limited adverse impacts" on the environment.
A spokesman for the Virginia-based Dominion energy firm, which operates the Cove Point terminal on the Chesapeake Bay in southern Calvert and proposed the expansion, said company officials were still studying the draft report Friday night, but he said it seemed positive for the project.
"It's a huge document. We're not allowed to say much about it yet," said Dan Donovan, a Dominion spokesman. "But overall, it looks like it's favorable."
The expansion, which includes the construction of a 47-mile pipeline through Charles, Calvert and Prince George's counties, is scheduled to begin next year and would nearly double the plant's storage capacity and pump tens of millions of dollars into the Southern Maryland economy.
But the project has drawn opposition from some community groups that say the proposed pipeline would harm the environment and undermine land preservation efforts.
Brian Ferguson, a St. Leonard resident whose property lies in the path proposed for the pipeline, said the group that he belongs to, Concerns About Pipeline Expansion, will continue fighting to have the proposal altered in coming months before it appears before FERC's commissioners for approval.
"We'll absolutely be filing comments on it once we've had a chance to review the draft," Ferguson said. "Our main objection is that they are going over preserved agricultural farmland and over a lot of waterways and wetlands. We're just trying to put some common sense into the route selection."
The staff report issued Friday is a draft environmental impact statement. The draft included some recommendations for minimizing the project's effect on fisheries, vegetation and noise near residences.
But the report states that Dominion, in many instances, followed procedures to minimize the impact from construction, such as its adjustments in routing the pipeline to avoid placement near residences "to the maximum extent practicable."
Along with Friday's report, FERC announced it will hold public meetings on Dec. 7 and 8 and take comments on the draft until Dec. 21. The staff's final report will then go to the FERC's commissioners for a decision.
About one-third of the liquefied natural gas imported into the country passes through the Cove Point terminal. The facility supplies gas to about 12 percent of homes in Maryland that are heated by gas and up to 9 percent of the gas that Washington Gas distributes to its customers in the District, Northern Virginia and Maryland.
Since the expansion project was announced about two years ago, it has garnered support from the Calvert Board of Commissioners, which endorsed the plan because of the economic boost it would give the county.
The expansion of the pipeline and terminal would bring about $43 million into the Southern Maryland economy, according to a study by RESI, an economic consulting firm. The study, paid for by Dominion, said the plan also would create 244 temporary jobs during the four years of construction and 148 permanent jobs afterward. The project would also generate $16.7 million in annual tax payments to local and state governments, the study said.