2009-02-06 / Front Page

Massive LNG Plant Off Rockaway Shore?

By Howard Schwach

Have you heard about the massive, 53-acre manmade island that will house a Liquefied Natural Gas terminal that is planned for 16.4 miles off the Far Rockaway shoreline and less than 20 miles from Belle Harbor?

An artist's rendering of the LNG terminal island that would be built off Rockaway's coast. An artist's rendering of the LNG terminal island that would be built off Rockaway's coast. If not, don't be surprised. The privatelyfinanced plan has been kept below the radar in New York City by stating that the facility will be 15.3 miles off the coast of Long Beach, therefore negating the necessity of holding public hearings in New York even though the city is only one mile farther away from the proposed site.

The new island, about nine times the size of Giants Stadium, will be funded by a Manhattan company called Atlantic Sea Island Group. It will be built in 60 feet of water using clean fill and other environmentally friendly materials, its proponents say.

It is reportedly the first LNG terminal in the United States that will be built on an island rather than on a floating platform.

Officials from Atlantic Sea Island say that the facility will be barely visible from the beachfront.

The company's website says that the proposed terminal will be "constructed far from population centers, to serve as an LNG receiving, storage and regasification terminal [for tankers coming from foreign ports] that will supply the New York/Long Island and metropolitan region's evergrowing need for natural gas."

Officials of the Manhattan group say that the facility will help to keep gas prices under control by increasing the flow of imported gas to the northeast region. They add that they expect to have the facility online by 2010, pending federal review and approval.

The facility will be able to handle two LNG tankers at a time and would have four 180,000-cubic-meter tanks for LNG. Each day, company officials say, the terminal could receive and store a maximum of 2,000,000,000 cubic meters of LNG and then transmit that gas to companies in the northeast region.

While the company points to the facility's importance in maintaining an affordable supply of natural gas, its detractors point to the problems it might bring to the coastline.

A Long Beach group called Clean Ocean Action says that the facility might destroy more than 100 acres of marine life habitats, pollute the sea and the air and, perhaps, cause a spill that would pollute the entire south shore coastline, including Rockaway.

"No manmade island has ever been constructed in the open ocean and nobody knows if such a structure could withstand an Atlantic Ocean hurricane," a spokesperson for the group said.

Two Rockaway residents attended the recent Long Beach meeting held to discuss the project.

Joe Hartigan and Steve Stathis were not happy about the project or the fact that input from Rockaway residents was not sought.

"We demanded that the company come to Rockaway and give a presentation," Hartigan said. "We're hoping that the Rockaway Park Homeowners and Residents will host a meeting, or perhaps the Jamaica Bay Task Force."

While the company's application makes no mention of either Rockaway or New York City, it is clear from maps provided at the Long Beach meeting that the pipeline that would connect the terminal with the mainland goes right through (or under) Rockaway and then under Jamaica Bay before terminating near John F. Kennedy Airport.

Broad Channel resident Dan Mundy, the president of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, thinks that the plan is a bad idea.

He told The Wave on Tuesday that his organization will be joining numerous environmental groups in condemning a plan to build an offshore island for the purpose of LNG transport to this area.

"This island, which would be located 13 miles off the coast of Long Beach, would cause irrevocable harm to our ocean environment," Mundy said. "This would be undertaken by a company that has no prior experience in such a project. In addition to the harm it would do to local fish, crab and lobster population, there would be huge exclusion areas set up around it which would in effect make a large portion of our ocean waters off limits."

He added that LNG is not a clean fuel for a number of reasons.

"It is stored at temperatures of minus 260 degrees as it is transported as a liquid and then returned to a gaseous form in order to pipe it ashore. This process is recognized as creating a large carbon footprint and is compared by many as similar to coal," he argues. "At a time when we seek energy independence, the reliance on LNG would once again put us at the mercy of foreign countries as it is purchased from Russia and the Middle East. Our country is the number two producer of clean natural gas and we have no need for this product. The only beneficiary of this concept will be the big oil companies who see the potential for profits."

Finally, Mundy says, the huge supply tankers that are more than four football fields long offer a potential terrorist target because the LNG becomes explosive as it is offloaded and converted to gas. Military analysts have stated that such an area offshore would be more difficult to safeguard.

"This project is ill conceived and offers no benefits other than producing profits for the big oil companies. We have all worked long and hard to bring our ocean waters back to the point they are at today. The idea of creating a massive manmade island to process a highly flammable, dangerous, dirty product which would further increase our energy dependence on unfriendly foreign nations all the while creating a potential terrorist target is a poor, if not ridiculous, one. We call on all of our elected officials to join us in condemning this project and fighting to prevent it," Mundy concluded.

There is a mandated environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act before the LNG terminal island can be built.

That review process calls for one meeting in each state that is impacted by the new facility. That meeting, officials point out, has already been held in Long Beach.

After the meeting, which was held last week, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) has to develop a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which has to take into account all of the factors that might impact coastal areas should the project be built.

The DEIS has to be distributed to the communities that might be impacted by the project and then those communities have to be given a chance to respond.

It is questionable, however, whether Rockaway will be brought into the process, experts say, unless our federal representatives demand our inclusion.

Congressmen Anthony Weiner and Gregory Meeks were contacted by The Wave for comment, but neither responded by press time.

After the second public hearing, a final EIS will be completed and published.

The Coast Guard, however, says that it is neither for nor against the plan.

"We have oversight and are tasked with insuring that the coastal and marine environment are protected," said Petty Officer Third Class Barbara Patton, a spokesperson for the service. "We don't get to set the rules, but we have to make sure that the laws set by Congress are followed."

Locals who want to comment on the planned LNG terminal can do so by sending them to U.S. Department of Transportation, Docket Management Facility, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, West Building, Ground Floor, Room W- 12-140, Washington, D.C. 20590. Comments can also be made electronically at www.regulations.gov. The docket identification number for the project is USCG-2007-28535.

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