Kenai natural gas plant unlikely to harm endangered belugas, report says

A big industrial plan
The Kenai liquefied natural gas facility. (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

Marathon Petroleum’s plan for a Kenai liquefied natural gas plant will likely not harm endangered Cook Inlet belugas, according to a Jan. 25 letter from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

That brings Marathon one step closer to reopening the Nikiski plant as an import facility. Marathon subsidiary Trans-Foreland Pipeline got the green light from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reopen the plant in December 2020.

In the letter, the National Marine Fisheries Service said Marathon’s plan will probably not adversely affect endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales or their habitat, which extends past Kalgin Island. Nor is the project likely to impact several other key species, including local populations of Steller sea lions and gray whales.

That’s because proposed upgrades to the facility will occur on land, the letter said. The project doesn’t propose any changes to current vessel operations.

But the plant would emit greenhouse gases, through the venting of excess boil-off gas, during ship unloading. The report said effects of those emissions on marine species of concern would be insignificant, and the facility has emitted more greenhouse gases in the past.

The Kenai LNG facility ran for years as a natural gas exporter under ConocoPhillips. At one point, it was the country’s sole exporter of LNG, and Japan’s only source for the commodity.

As the market became more competitive, ConocoPhillips mothballed the facility in 2017. Marathon bought the plant in 2018.

The company is still uncertain if it will act on its proposal to reopen the plant, flipping it from exports to imports. If it did, Marathon could use the imported gas to power its refinery down the street.

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