The next Keystone? Natural gas project draws environmentalist ire

A liquefied natural gas facility in southern Maryland is generating intense criticism from environmental groups, in a fight that echoes the protracted battle over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Energy company Dominion Resources is hoping to invest up to $3.8 billion to upgrade the Cove Point LNG facility as an export terminal.

If successful, it could become the East Coast's chief LNG export facility, sending billions of cubic feet of natural gas to Japan, India, and elsewhere.

Dominion stresses that the project would have a huge economic impact close to home as well.

"The local area of Calvert County gets a huge benefit: $40 million dollars in additional taxes, property taxes, and the whole area of Maryland gets a benefit as well ... not to mention the U.S., from an export perspective," Mike Frederick, Dominion's VP of liquefied natural gas operations, told Fox News in an interview.

The Department of Energy has given Dominion conditional permission to export gas. The company is awaiting an environmental assessment from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), due May 15.

As with the proposed Canada-to-Texas Keystone oil pipeline, organized labor is on board with the LNG project, wanting the roughly 3,000 jobs it is projected to create during construction.

But some environmental groups are fighting it, complaining it's being oversold.

"Everybody in the U.S. economy will suffer from gas exports according to the U.S. Department of Energy, except for one industry -- and that's the gas industry, which will make lots and lots of money," Chesapeake Climate Action Network's Mike Tidwell told Fox News in an interview.

He was referring to concerns that, if the U.S. starts exporting natural gas, prices could increase domestically. Right now, while the U.S. is one of the world's largest natural gas producers, the country does not yet have the infrastructure in place to export it.

Further, environmentalists raise concerns that Cove Point would be used to ship out gas extracted through a controversial process known as fracking. The Chesapeake group and others recently wrote to President Obama blasting the Cove Point project.

Some local residents also say they are not yet sold on this project.

"The thing that's unique about Cove Point, is that we will be the first LNG export facility in the history of the industry ever to be built in such a populated residential area," resident Sue Lusby said.

But Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer, whose district includes Cove Point, is a supporter, noting the project would bring new, well-paying jobs to the community.

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who would likely want environmentalist support if he chooses to run for the White House in 2016, hasn't taken a position on the project.

Some experts say that with Maryland being a true blue state, the criticism may be louder than elsewhere.

"I can understand why in a place like Maryland, this is a much more contentious issue, where Cheniere, the facility in Louisiana ... [is]scheduled to come online and start exporting natural gas in 2015, which is good news," said Nick Loris, from the Heritage Foundation. "Any opposition to LNG facilities or coal export facilities, for instance, might be more of a localized, state issue."

The opposition to Cove Point is not yet at the level of Keystone's, which has become a nationalized debate. A decision on Keystone once again was delayed last week.

Some experts predict the projected economic and job benefits from Cove Point will dwarf the environmental concerns, and ultimately the project is likely to go forward.