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Marines Oppose Natural Gas Port

Two firms consider land on or near Camp Pendleton for an LNG shipping terminal.

June 08, 2004|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

ChevronTexaco has approached the Marine Corps about building a liquefied natural gas terminal off the coast or on land at Camp Pendleton, provoking vehement opposition from the commanding general of one of the nation's best-known Marine bases, Marine officials said.

The Marines also oppose Camp Pendleton being listed as an alternative site for an LNG terminal proposed by the Australian energy company BHP Billiton off the shore of Ventura County.

"As the current commander of this installation, I am unequivocally opposed to the establishment of a commercial LNG facility on or near the coastline of this Marine Corps amphibious training base," Maj. Gen. W.G. Bowdon wrote state officials last month.

Environmentalists reacted with anger Monday to news of a possible LNG facility, calling the Camp Pendleton coastline one of the most pristine in Southern California, home to a wealth of rare plants, animals and birds.

The focus on Camp Pendleton -- the last major piece of undeveloped California coastline south of Ventura -- highlights the keen interest among energy firms to locate terminals in California and win a share of the lucrative natural gas market.

Companies nationwide are jockeying for position to import LNG from overseas to counter rising natural gas prices and a dwindling domestic supply. But mounting concern about the potential fire hazards of LNG facilities and the mammoth tankers that would serve them is spurring strong protests by residents near some proposed sites, including Long Beach, Ventura County and several New England cities.

The notion of a terminal at Camp Pendleton, however, has received virtually no attention to date. The base is considered one of the nation's most important Marine amphibious training areas, and Marines trained there for such storied battles as Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal.

In addition, the Navy has used an offshore island for bombing practice.

Environmentalists note that the San Onofre nuclear plant is on the coast just north of the base, and they question whether an LNG terminal should be located nearby.

Some of the region's most legendary surfing areas are on or near the base, including a stretch near San Onofre surfers call the Yosemite of surfing.

"I don't know where these oil companies, these multinational corporations, get off using our beaches and coastal resources like some sort of poker game on this LNG thing," said Mark Massara, Sierra Club director of coastal programs. "Apparently there is no beach that is safe from these folks."

Coastal activist Susan Jordan, who has criticized how the state is reviewing prospective LNG facilities, said, "This is just another example of how the site selection process is flawed."

ChevronTexaco spokeswoman Nicole Hodgson said Monday she could not comment on any interest her company has in building a terminal in or near the 200-square-mile base, adding that ChevronTexaco was exploring LNG sites on the East and West coasts.

"We consider conversations that we have about these strategies with various stakeholders as confidential," she said. She added, "We haven't been notified by the Marines of its position on locating an LNG terminal at Camp Pendleton."

In his letter to state officials, Bowdon said, "The Marine Corps remains absolutely opposed to the [ChevronTexaco] idea; and our position on this matter, including reasons we're against it, has been clearly stated on several occasions to ChevronTexaco officials."

After reviewing a copy of Bowdon's letter provided by The Times, Hodgson said Monday, "We haven't been notified by the Marines of its position."

Told that the Marines report otherwise, Hodgson said, "If they say something else, that's their position, and this is our position."

ChevronTexaco is pursuing plans to build an LNG terminal in the Coronado Islands in Mexico, just south of San Diego, which would provide gas primarily for Mexico, although the firm may consider distributing the surplus to California, Hodgson said.

"We believe that more than one LNG terminal will be required to address the energy needs on the West Coast," she added.

An official with BHP Billiton said Monday that the firm was not interested in a Camp Pendleton terminal, although planners mentioned the base as a possible alternative to the Ventura County site during state environmental reviews.

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