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Plans for Offshore Gas Site in the Works

An Australian company wants to build a terminal off Oxnard as a receiving point for shipments of natural gas to California.

August 15, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

An Australian-based company announced Thursday that it wants to construct a half-billion-dollar offshore liquefied natural gas terminal about 20 miles from Oxnard, touching off competition to build the first such facility on the West Coast.

BHP Billiton plans to build a floating terminal that would act as a receiving point for shipments of California-bound natural gas. The stored liquefied gas would then be converted to vapor through a heat exchange system and transported by an undersea natural gas pipeline to a local gas utility's pipeline near Ormond Beach, officials said.

BHP's announcement comes months after Houston-based Crystal Energy's proposal to convert an old oil platform 11 miles off the Oxnard shore into a similar facility met opposition from environmentalists and several Ventura County leaders.

"My opinion hasn't changed," said Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez. "This is something that continues to concern me."

BHP officials say their project is different from Crystal Energy's plan and that city and county officials should not confuse the two.

"We're hopeful that these people will keep an open mind," said Steve Meheen, the project's development manger.

BHP officials stressed that their facility would extend beyond shipping lanes and marine mammal migratory patterns, as well as away from the Point Mugu Navy base and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. They said the facility would be far enough offshore to ensure "the highest level of protection for the coast and public safety."

Another major difference, Meheen said, is that BHP will not be using an existing oil platform for its operations.

BHP's floating terminal would be permanently moored to the ocean floor and connected to shore by a traditional natural gas pipeline. The pipeline would come ashore near Ormond.

The terminal would include three large storage tanks able to hold the equivalent of 6 billion cubic feet of natural gas. Equipped with eight vaporizers, the facility would be able to convert up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, officials said.

There are currently no similar offshore natural gas facilities off the West Coast, but several proposals are being considered in the Gulf of Mexico.

Meanwhile, BHP and Crystal Energy face an exhaustive environmental review process and numerous regulatory hurdles before their projects could go forward, which means, even if approved, it could be several years before either one is operational.

BHP plans to file applications for its project in the next few weeks with the California Coastal Commission, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, the Oxnard City Council and other agencies. If approved, the company could commence operations by 2008.

Crystal Energy officials have said their proposal could be up and running by 2006.

But William Perkins, president of Crystal Energy, stressed that his company is not in a race and that there is no reason to believe both projects can't operate in the same general vicinity.

"Our project is here to excel, not to compete," Perkins said. "We're encouraged that other people are looking for creative ways" to meet the state's natural gas needs.

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