A floating liquefied natural gas port similar to the Port Dolphin project proposed off Anna Maria Island is in the works on Florida’s East Coast, where Port Calypso is responding to community concerns with its pocketbook.
Port Calypso is a project of Houston-based Suez Energy North America, an affiliate of the Paris-based company that built the Suez Canal 140 years ago.
The proposed Calypso, 10 miles off Port Everglades in the Atlantic Ocean, would dock tankers that convert liquefied natural gas to gas, then pipe it ashore to Port Everglades in its own pipeline.
Port Dolphin Energy, also based in Houston, proposes its port 28 miles off Anna Maria Island in the Gulf of Mexico, and would build its own pipeline to transport the same product to Port Manatee.
Both projects have heard their share of concerns from impacted communities.
But the similarities in their approaches to those concerns end there.
Dolphin’s proposed pipeline path would make Manatee County’s submerged beach renourishment sand area inaccessible, costing the county an estimated $50 million over the next 40 years to find and mine similar quality sand elsewhere, according to county officials.
Calypso’s pipeline path was scheduled to run through a coral reef. The company responded by committing to build a $100 million tunnel underneath the reef, similar to the channel tunnel, or chunnel, connecting the United Kingdom and France, said Dan McGinnis, vice president and project manager for Suez.
While Dolphin critics have suggested the company avoid the Gulf sand bed by using directional drilling to lay the pipeline underneath it, Calypso rejected that system.
"We decided to build a tunnel beneath the surface," McGinnis said, describing it as a concrete-encased dry tunnel three miles long that will hold the pipeline and a monorail system, enabling workers to access it from inside.
"We’re building a subway system," he said. "It hits our economics, but every one of these (projects) is different and we have to respect the tremendous ecosystem."
Calypso also hired a private consultant for close to $2 million to do an ichthyoplankton study on fish species living in the project’s Atlantic region, which is heavily fished, according to McGinnis.
Dolphin’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, meanwhile, has been criticized by marine biologists as having inadequate details on marine species that would be impacted in the Gulf.
"We had to run the most extensive 15-month ichthyoplankton survey in the world" to comply with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) requirements, McGinnis said. He also said the company would continue to monitor impacts on fish populations at additional expense after construction.
Talking to the community
The companies also have differed in their approaches to their respective communities.
Most officials on Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key, Manatee County commissioners and state and federal legislators learned of the Dolphin project after its first local public hearing May 6 – after the company’s environmental impact statement was finished and fairly far along in the permitting process.
Calypso, on the other hand, began working with community leaders and agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA and the U.S. Minerals Management Service, two and a half years before its Draft Environmental Impact Statement was released a few months ago, McGinnis said.
"We are extremely proud of our outreach program," he said, noting that the company has significant experience. Suez is in the construction phase of a similar project, Port Neptune, off Gloucester, Mass. "These things aren’t easy to site. If outreach isn’t happening, you’re dropping the ball."
While some beachfront residents have objected to Calypso because it would be visible from shore at 10 miles out and would pose safety concerns, the company has held five federally sanctioned public hearings and about a dozen community meetings with fisheries groups and residents to explain the project and address concerns, he said, calling natural gas "very safe" and "very clean."
Whichever company gets a permit first will have the first facility of its kind in Florida waters, he said, but the two companies are in separate permitting processes that do not depend on the outcome of the other, McGinnis said.
"The companies are only technically in competition," he said, since Calypso is primarily an energy company and Dolphin is primarily a shipping company, and since each is negotiating with different power plants as potential customers: FP&L for Calypso and TECO for Dolphin.
"There is plenty of demand for gas in Florida," McGinnis said.