PRINCE FREDERICK, Md. -- Both sides asked a judge Monday to rule in their favor without trial in a fight over a proposal to build a multi-billion-dollar terminal in southern Maryland to export liquefied natural gas.
Calvert County Circuit Judge James P. Salmon listened to arguments for about an hour, but did not give much indication as to how he might rule. Salmon said he had only spent a few hours recently reading the agreement for the first time and said he would issue an opinion as soon as possible.
Dominion Resources Inc. has proposed spending up to $3 billion to upgrade the terminal to export increasing amounts of natural gas being produced by new hydraulic fracturing techniques.
The Sierra Club opposes exports that it argues could harm the Chesapeake Bay and nearby Calvert Cliffs State Park, increase natural gas prices and promote hydraulic fracturing, which critics say hurts the environment. Federal officials have already approved the exports in Louisiana and the Maryland proposal is among a number of others seeking approval nationwide.
The Sierra Club argues it can block exports from the site under an environmental agreement originally signed between the conservation group and the original developers of the terminal.
Salmon asked the two sides if exports were prohibited if the agreement didn't specifically authorize them.
Sierra Club attorney Roy L. Mason said the intent of the original agreement has to be considered and neither side was contemplating exports when the terminal was first built to import natural gas.
"Neither party even thought of that as a possibility," Mason said, adding later that Dominion was arguing "there is an authorization for export without the word export being used" at all in the agreement.
Dominion attorney David Hensler said if the language of the agreement is clear there is no need to ask about the intent at the time.
Hensler told the judge the agreement allows for gas to be shipped back and forth between the terminal and an offshore pier, which is not part of the agreement. Hensler told the judge the agreement "expressly authorizes" movement of gas both ways between the terminal and offshore dock and there is "no way this can be read to prohibit construction" of liquefaction facilities at the site for export.