In the timeline to scope, plan and build the Alaska LNG project, it’s early in the process. But Nikiski residents who testified during a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hearing on Tuesday spoke of increasing industrial activity, conflicting messages from project managers, and rumors running rampant through a community that stands to be dramatically altered by the $45-$65 billion project designed to carry North Slope gas to Nikiski.
The community is proposed site of a liquefaction plant, pipeline and marine terminal designed to receive, process and load the gas for transport and overseas sale.
More than 80 people crowded the Nikiski Community Center during the hearing; 17 testified and left comments with FERC officials. The meeting is one of 12 scheduled by the regulatory commission, FERC, as part of its effort to gather public comments on issues that should be addressed in the agency’s environmental impact on the pipeline and plant.
The vast majority of testimony centered around the human impact of the project and how people stood to be affected by the buildup leading to the project, the noise and potential pollution generated by the facilities, and impact once the “boom” subsides and the community is left with a facility that has outlived its useful life.
The Alaska LNG sponsors, ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips, the state of Alaska and TransCanada, will be required to respond to the comments after the scoping period ends, on Dec. 4, as part of the development of the $45-$65 billion project designed to carry North Slope natural gas to Nikiski.
Some, like Peter McKay, focused comments on the technical specifications of the project. McKay brought a list of 46 questions which included thoughts on the potential of a pipeline right-of-way, mitigation of impacts on the environment from noise or pollution from the pipeline or liquefaction facility and the potential for residents in the hyper-rural Boulder Point area to access services or improvements made to infrastructure in the area by project construction.
Others, like Barbara Phegley, who was the first to testify, raised a number of human-impact issues that became common themes during the meeting, including the effect the plant would have on air and water quality and how community resources would be strained by the influx of people during the project’s construction.
“What is (AKLNG)’s plan for us? I am 60 years old any my biggest asset is my home,” she said. “The investment we made in our home was intended to give us security in our retirement years. The prospect of living near or in between the plant and a major highway is not the vision I had for my future.”
Shelia Graham, whose home is directly near the highway, said she will likely be impacted no matter which of the proposed highway relocation plans is chosen. Graham said she believed the LNG project would destroy the community.
“I’m retired. I live right on the inlet. I have fabulous views,” Graham said. Her voice broke and she was crying when she spoke again. “I feel like my life is being destroyed by this project and I know many other people who feel this way too. I grieve for our community.”
As people testified, some said the project had already changed their lives and would likely continue to change the community.
Phegley, whose home is within the Miller Loop area, said she has seen speculative buying, gravel pits and a recently installed septic plant dumping near her home.
“I don’t know what the future holds for us anymore,” she said. “I think this plant will have such a dramatic affect on everybody living within the Miller Loop area that one of the considerations should be the possibility of buying out everyone in that loop.”
Phegley said she couldn’t imagine who would want to buy her home or any others in the Miller Loop area which could be sandwiched between a highway and a liquefaction plant.
Sybille Castro, whose home and acreage is on Lovers Loop, said traffic on the two-lane Kenai Spur Highway had already increased astronomically.
“A couple of weeks ago, a woman died in front of my house. Then we have this (head-on) accident a few days ago,” she said.
Several people mentioned the highway and plans to permanently relocate it. The most recent potential footprint of the project shows the liquefaction plant cutting through a site between Mile 19.5 to 21 of the highway. The plant, which could take up nearly 900 acres of land could be located in the Nikiski industrial area that includes a Tesoro refinery and the ConocoPhillips LNG plant. Relocating the highway has the potential to affect hundreds of people in the area.
However, while FERC took testimony about the impact of the project, FERC representative Maggie Suter stressed that it did not have the authority to change the site of a new highway like it does when considering the pipeline and liquefaction plant.
“We’ll evaluate the cumulative environmental impact of constructing that road … we just don’t get to say where the road goes,” she said.
A lack of data
Some attributed the lack of solid information on the project to deliberate obfuscation by AKLNG project managers.
Resident Steve Bush said company employees had been meeting in small groups and in private with landowners rather than regularly addressing the community as a whole.
“They try to divide and conquer,” he said. “Hitler did that. But it’s time to get down to brass tacks. We can handle what you have to tell us and we want to hear the truth. We don’t want to hear conjecture, half-truths or innuendo. We want to hear facts.”
Bush said he’d heard rumors the project had run out of money for land purchases. Others said they’d heard rumors about everything from where the Kenai Spur Highway would be relocated to how much water and pollution would be generated by the facility.
Project representatives have repeatedly stressed that because it is in preliminary front end engineering phase, much of the information people are searching for is not yet available and on Wednesday Suter echoed those statements.
“The biggest thing to be aware of is, I know it may not feel like it recognizing how big all of the companies are, but we are very early in our process,” Suter said. “There’s just not a lot of information available.”