SMITHTOWN, N.Y. (AP) - It would be about as long as the Queen Mary 2 ocean liner and would supply enough natural gas to heat 4 million homes a year.
And it would be right in the middle of Long Island Sound, halfway between densely populated areas of New York and Connecticut.
Although years from generating power, a proposed floating liquefied natural gas terminal is churning up controversy and uniting politicians, environmentalists and activists in both states.
The proposed $700 million terminal is part of a growing national debate over the presence of liquefied natural gas facilities in coastal cities. The issue has affected communities from Massachusetts to Texas, as cities grapple over environmental and security concerns while also trying to create more energy infrastructure to deal with rising demands.
Natural gas is used to heat more than 60 million homes in the U.S. and it is increasingly important as a source of fuel for power producers.
Energy demand is especially robust in the area that would be served by the Long Island terminal. About half of the gas would go to New York City, the nation's largest city with 8 million people. Between 25 and 30 percent is targeted for Long Island, and the rest would go to Connecticut _ both densely populated areas.
The proposal also carries political implications: Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's company served as a consultant for the project, and the likely 2008 presidential candidate has visited communities this week where public hearings were being held on the proposal.
Meanwhile, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton - Giuliani's potential 2008 rival - has spoken out against the project.
The debate received renewed attention this week as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission began hearings on whether to allow Broadwater Energy - a consortium of Shell Oil Co., a Houston-based subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, and TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. - to build the terminal about nine miles off Wading River, N.Y., and 10 miles south of New Haven, Conn.
Broadwater officials say the terminal is needed to meet the growing demand for natural gas. They site the New York State Energy Plan, which projects a 37 percent growth in statewide natural gas use by 2021; Connecticut forecasts the use of natural gas for electric generation will hit 47 percent by 2008.
Broadwater estimates it will reduce natural gas and electricity prices by an average $680 million a year in the region. The median savings for customers, according to Broadwater, will be $300 per year, a figure critics dispute.
Hundreds of residents showed up at the hearings, held in both Connecticut and Long Island, to let their views be known on everything from the environment, security, the need for alternative energy, and the potential threat to the fishing industry in Long Island Sound.
Giuliani said the proposed terminal would be ''as safe a facility in design as you could possibly have.''
He said employees would have thorough background checks, and the company was committed to using the latest security technology available. And he said the proposed terminal would be far enough from the New York and Connecticut coasts to avoid major problems in the event of an emergency.
''Just in case the worst thing happens, there could be no impact on the Long Island shore or Connecticut shore,'' he said Wednesday before a meeting on the proposal at Smithtown High School in Smithtown, N.Y.
But Clinton reacted with skepticism about the project's safety. ''The safety and security risks involved with this project have not been addressed. I am very concerned about ... who will bear the burden of first response should an accident occur.''
Natural gas is shipped in massive refrigerated tankers after being cooled and condensed into a liquid referred to as liquefied natural gas. Under the Broadwater proposal, LNG tankers would dock at the terminal, and the fuel would be warmed up to a gas. It would then be pumped through an existing underwater pipeline system that serves Long Island and Connecticut.
A Coast Guard security analysis last year said additional measures, including more firefighting capability, would be needed to manage risks to navigation safety and security. However, the report found the terminal would likely not be an attractive target for terrorists because of its remoteness in the middle of the Sound, but it did recommend escort boats for LNG carriers to help prevent terrorist attacks or shipping accidents. A security zone around the facility also was recommended.
Rep. Timothy Bishop, a Democrat who represents eastern Long Island, said the Coast Guard would require 65 to 70 more people to patrol the Sound, as well as an additional vessel, if the terminal opens.
''The question is: Who pays for that?'' he said. ''Perhaps more important is the question of whether it is appropriate to put that extra demand on Coast Guard resources when their primary responsibilities are port security and search-and-rescue.''
Susannah Pierce, a Broadwater spokeswoman, said Broadwater would be willing to pay for any firefighting facilities needed to protect the terminal, but that security concerns were being exaggerated.