More than 60 liquefied natural gas terminals have been proposed near ports in the United States in recent years, but only one of those is breaking ground and that one is at the old Tennaco site south of the Chevron Pascagoula Refinery in Jackson County.
Gulf LNG Energy, which is building the $1.1 billion terminal, hosted a lunch for 200 in honor of the ground-breaking Wednesday at the site, which juts into the Mississippi Sound at the southernmost tip of the county.
As a backdrop to the speeches by company, state and congressional leaders was the rhythm of a pile driver working to set the bases for two huge storage tanks that will hold 6.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to supply Mississippi's needs for almost a week.
"We've been looking forward to this for quite a long time," said Port of Pascagoula Director Mark McAndrews. "We've been working on it since 2002."
McAndrews said there was a certain amount of community concern and need for assurance that care would be taken with the project that handles so much volatile product.
"But by and large we're really glad it's here," he said. "It's a good day for the port."
County Tax Assessor Benny Goff was in attendance; he calculated roughly $14 million in taxes could be generated for schools, county roads and county courts when the terminal is complete. Gulf LNG also pays the port and state for leasing the land.
The new industry will bring in 150 tankers a year full of compressed natural gas that has been cooled to a liquid state at -260F. The gas will be stored at the terminal, warmed and piped to users around the country. Cooling the gas for shipping to the terminal are companies in Angola and Italy.
Jackson County received praise Wednesday for being so accommodating to an industry that has stirred controversy in other states. But Gov. Haley Barbour said Mississippi would have allowed an LNG terminal only of the type that uses a closed-loop system to warm the gas. In contrast, open-loop terminals have been the most controversial, criticized for damaging microscopic life in Gulf waters by running millions of gallons through the plant to warm the gas.
The remote location for the Gulf LNG terminal was touted as ideal. It's 1.7 miles by water from the Singing River Yacht Club, at the end of a road lined with industry, near a web of existing gas pipelines.
It was John Howland, senior vice president of Crest Investment Company in Texas, who remembered the site from decades ago when he was in the rice business. The site was selected for a terminal in the 1980s but the market for natural gas went flat and the expensive LNG process wasn't cost-effective.
Howland said the county's Port of Pascagoula and Economic Development Foundation welcomed the new industry, which is really just a conduit for getting natural gas from other countries into the U.S.
El Paso, which is half-owner of the project and one of the nation's leading energy companies, will operate the terminal.
Construction began in January; it will last into 2011 and eventually bring 600 jobs to the county. When complete the terminal will employ 50 to 60.
U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker were on hand with Barbour, U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor and the area's legislative delegation.
Cochran bragged on Jackson County and its attitude toward industry that makes it a leader in the state.
Barbour included it with $25 billion in energy capital investments being made around the state, also naming the Richton Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Perry County, a new nuclear power plant at Grand Gulf in Claiborne County, a coal regasification plant in Kemper County and a Department of Defense initiative in Natchez to turn coal into motor fuel for military vehicles.
"Our energy policy in Mississippi is more energy," Barbour said.
Copyright (c) 2008, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.