Schwarzenegger’s plan to sign over huge energy contracts to Sempra Energy will likely add significant risk to the Western Pacific Grey Whales, one of the world’s most critically endangered whale populations, that feed in the waters off of Sakhalin Island, Russia. There are only about 100 of these whales remaining, and only 23 of the females are capable of calving. The whales feed adjacent to where a consortium of companies, including Shell Oil and Mitsubishi, are drilling for oil. Natural gas that is extracted near the oil platforms is a part of the overall integrated project, and is intended for markets abroad.
The integrated Sakhalin oil and gas project is mired in controversy. Oil is drilled from an offshore terminal in an important marine habitat that is crucial to the Sakhalin economy. Last week, Shell announced it was delaying construction of an underwater pipeline until further studies are completed to examine the project’s impact on the whales. The project has been faced with expert criticism both for its environmental, as well as its economic, viability. Shell, as well as public finance banks such as the U.S. Export-Import Bank that are considering financing the project, have been inundated with postcards and faxes from thousands of citizens worldwide.
This Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission, urged by the Governor, is considering approval of long-term contracts of electricity to the energy giant Sempra. It is likely that some of the new gas needed to meet these contracts would come from Sakhalin. Sempra and Shell are now working to gain approval to build a liquid natural gas (LNG) import terminal in Baja California, just north of Ensenada. One of the likely sources of the LNG is Sakhalin Island, from where the gas would be moved across the Pacific in huge LNG tankers. From the Baja terminal, pipelines would move the natural gas through Baja, across the U.S. border, and into the California gas grid. Another possible route from Sakhalin to the Southern California grid is through another controversial proposed LNG terminal in Long Beach harbor.
There are currently no LNG terminals on the U.S. West Coast, nor has any of the proposed terminals received final approval for construction. Awarding Sempra these electricity contracts will increase the pressure to further develop in Sakhalin, as well as other endangered ecosystems around the world. This plan will dramatically increase the state’s dependence on foreign fossil fuels for years to come.
According to the Governor, the Sempra deal is necessary to avoid a future energy crisis in California. However, the rolling blackouts of 2000-2001 were caused not by a shortage of gas, but by energy manipulation, and by the shut-down of gas-fired power plants to comply with the Clean Air Act. Sempra is one of the companies who were responsible for manipulation of the state’s energy supply. Awarding these huge contracts to Sempra would make rolling blackouts more, not less, likely. Development of renewable energy, particularly solar, will provide clean and reliable energy on hot afternoons, when it’s needed the most.
A broad coalition of environmentalists and renewable advocates, “Ratepayers for Clean, Affordable Energy,” or RACE, are concerned with the current push to import LNG from abroad. Coalition members claim that California can meet its energy needs by implementing broad conservation and renewable efforts, as well as allowing cities to make their own energy decisions through community choice efforts, as San Diego has done. They are concerned with the global environmental impacts of LNG, global warming, and the safety of coastal communities that would receive the LNG. RACE is putting pressure on the CPUC to reject the Governor’s proposal.
“The Governor made a campaign promise to the public for a 20% renewable mix by 2010,” said Rory Cox, Communications Coordinator of Pacific Environment, “But looking at this deal, it appears he made another promise to Sempra. He can’t have it both ways, and the CPUC has an opportunity this week to put the brakes on bad, hasty decisions.”