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Federal regulators: No significant environmental impact in Dominion natural gas exports plan

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WASHINGTON - Federal regulators concluded Thursday that Dominion Energy's proposal to export liquefied natural gas from its Cove Point terminal on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland would pose "no significant impact" on the environment — a positive step for the company.

The environmental assessment by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff is a recommendation to the commission, which will decide whether the $3.8 billion project can go forward. Other permits are also required.

"The adverse cumulative impacts that could occur in conjunction with the project would be temporary and minor," the FERC staff said.

The 241-page FERC assessment provoked a torrent of complaints from environmental groups, who said that the agency didn't take into effect a host of impacts, from global warming to the effect on the Chesapeake Bay.

The assessment comes as energy companies seek to take advantage of a boom in natural gas fueled by hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Virginia-based Dominion plans to ship the liquefied natural gas to Japan and India, where gas prices are higher than in the U.S. The Maryland plant would be the largest liquefied natural gas, or LNG, terminal on the East Coast.

Diane Leopold, president of Dominion Energy, hailed the FERC assessment.

"The Cove Point LNG facility has been in existence for nearly 40 years and this makes the most of existing facilities," she said. "This project will be built within the existing footprint and fence line of an industrial site."

In a joint press release, several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said the assessment failed to look at greenhouse gas emissions from fracking, piping, processing, shipping and eventually burning the liquefied natural gas.

"One of many glaring holes in FERC's draft review is the lack of anything close to a full analysis of the planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions that would be triggered, from the fracking wells all the way to the final smoke stacks," said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

He said the Obama administration was inviting "a grassroots uproar" as well as a significant legal challenge.

The groups wanted FERC to commit to conducting a more exhaustive environmental impact statement.

The FERC assessment did recommend developing an environmental complaint resolution procedure and avoiding tree clearing where certain species of birds of nest, until the young have left, among other things.

Republicans have been pushing the administration to approve LNG exports — casting that effort in recent months as a way to help beleaguered Ukraine. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Ukraine must pay in advance for Russian gas supplies starting next month.

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Follow Fred Frommer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ffrommer

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