Word that liquefied natural gas, or LNG, may not be available in sufficient quantities to justify large investments in new terminals should come as sobering news to the Passamaquoddy Indians and other LNG proponents in Maine.

With at least three projects at the talking stage for Washington County alone, as well as two others further advanced in Atlantic Canada, there’s a lot at stake here.

New England’s electrical energy supply, for one thing: LNG has largely replaced the now-decommissioned Maine Yankee as a major player in the region’s electrical generation, and two winters ago, as LNG supplies ran low, we came perilously close to a supply-caused blackout.

Then there’s the character of the coast itself: LNG terminals, no matter where they’re built, are bound to have a huge impact on the area around them. They must be supplied by large tankers; they require the construction of pipelines and storage facilities; they impose risk on the communities that host them, and on those communities’ neighbors. Like any large industrial development in Maine at least, because of the state’s tax structure and tradition of local control, they can be counted on to distort the local economy, as the host town fattens from tax revenues while other towns nearby absorb the costs.

In the case of the LNG terminals proposed for eastern Maine, at least, it would also appear likely that they’d have a short life. Matthew Simmons, the oil industry investment banker who shared his thoughts with reporter Bob Gustafson for this month’s page 1 story, is just as concerned about petroleum supplies in general. Saudi Arabia, the 900-pound gorilla of the world’s oil production, has long operated its oilfields under a veil of secrecy, asserting that supplies will be adequate when, Simmons suspects, they will not be. (Full disclosure: Simmons is an Island Institute trustee.)

“There is a lot of oil around,” a Saudi oil official told a writer for the New York Times when questioned about Simmons’s assertions in his recent book. Simmons, the official added, “does not know anything. The only thing he has is a big mouth. We should not pay attention to him. Either you believe us or you don’t.”

Strong words from someone whose very credibility, it would seem, is at stake. “Trust us,” he was saying.

Should we? And if we do trust the Saudis and things turn out as Matthew Simmons fears they might, are we willing to accept the consequences?