2013-08-16 / Top Stories

Liquid Gas Faces Solid Opposition

Comment Period Closes August 22
By Katie McFadden

The Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) fight is back on and many think it stinks. Liberty Natural Gas has requested a license for an LNG project off the coast of New York called Port Ambrose, which, according to many, is being pushed through quietly as residents of Long Beach, Long Island, Rockaway and other coastal communities are still recovering after Hurricane Sandy.

Port Ambrose is a deepwater liquefied natural gas port which consists of a submerged buoy and subsea pipeline system for the delivery of natural gas into New York and surrounding areas. Port Ambrose would be located 17 miles southeast of Jones Beach and 24 miles east of Long Branch, New Jersey. LNG is a super-chilled form of natural gas, which makes it possible to be shipped.

The LNG would arrive from Trinidad and other areas through Empire State Building-sized LNG regasification vessels, which will warm and re-gasify the frozen LNG onboard so that it can be transferred into a new subsea pipeline about 20 miles long, which will need to be built for the project.

The pipeline will connect to the existing Transco Lower New York Bay Lateral pipeline, located about two miles off Atlantic Beach and run parallel to Rockaway. The Rockaway Lateral pipeline, which is currently being built along Flatbush Avenue and will go under Riis Park, would also connect to the Transco pipeline to bring natural gas back into the boroughs. The Port Ambrose buoy and pipeline system installation is scheduled to begin in early 2015 and would take nine months to complete if the license is approved.

Each delivery will carry enough gas to power 1.5 million homes and ICF International says it will lower the price of natural gas by as much as four percent. The company says the project will stabilize energy prices during peak winter and summer months and will create as many as 600 jobs.

However, there are many opponents of the project and this isn’t the first time LNG proposals were shot down. In 2009, the Atlantic Sea Island Group proposed an LNG port which would consist of a 60-acre man-made island 13.5 miles south of Long Beach, 18 miles off the coast of Rockaway and 19 miles east of New Jersey. Then-Congressman Anthony Weiner and many Rockaway residents who attended public hearings opposed the project at the time. After the 2010 BP oil spill and receiving much opposition from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and several environmental groups, the company withdrew its plans for the project.

In September 2010, Liberty Natural Gas proposed a deepwater port, similar to Port Ambrose, about 16 miles off the coast of New Jersey. The project would have required a 44 mile underwater pipeline to be built. Christie vetoed the project in 2011, saying it posed “unacceptable risks to the State's residents, natural resources, economy and security.”

During these busy months since the Sandy, Liberty Natural Gas introduced the project again in a location, this time closer to New York. The company says this project would be different than the one vetoed by Christie as it would be located completely offshore and the size of the project would be reduced by more than 50 percent.

Despite the differences, environmentalists, elected officials, fishermen and residents of Long Beach, Long Island, Rockaway and other areas, still believe nothing good will come from the latest LNG port proposal. Hundreds gathered on July 9th in Long Beach for a public hearing on the project to show their opposition in front of the Maritime Administration, which must approve or deny the proposal.

Among the speakers was Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder who was angry over the way that the company had proposed the project without a majority of the public being aware of it and with public involvement limited.

The public hearing in Long Beach, and another held two days later in Edison, New Jersey, were the only public meetings about the application, which was posted by the Maritime Administration on June 14th. The written public comment period was only open until July 23rd until it was extended until August 22nd after receiving backlash for the short review time.

“Communities all across Long Island, Rockaway, Jamaica Bay and others deserve the opportunity to be involved in this process,” Goldfeder said at the hearing. “Rockaway has been through a lot. We need certainty and reassurance. By taking this project around about as quietly as possible, saying this is going to benefit us, is a lie. The bottom line is we need certainty. This project is not good. We beat it before and I’m confident that we’re going to beat it again.”

A major concern of many of the opponents is that Liberty Natural Gas has a goal of turning Port Ambrose into an export facility, even though it is being proposed as an import-only port. Opponents say pulling a bait and switch would be simple. Some said that the terminal could be built with an import license, but it could easily be relicensed to become an export facility and the change wouldn’t require public review.

The desire to create export facilities is high as experts say there is no need for natural gas to be imported and the demand for it is higher in countries overseas, so it is more valuable to ship it out.

Some experts say there is an overabundance of natural gas that already comes from within the United States, which has made natural gas prices cheap within the country. Two deepwater ports off of Gloucester, MA have sat idle and haven’t received shipments since 2010 because there is no need for it, according to a report from the Boston Globe. The $350 million Northeast Gateway Deepwater Port opened in 2008, when natural gas prices hit a peak. It hasn’t accepted shipments since 2010. The $400 million Neptune Deepwater Port opened in 2010 and only received a few shipments in that year.

While the demand for natural gas at home is low, prices have skyrocketed in European and Asian markets, which makes an export facility seem more valuable and the government is taking note.

LNG facilities around the country are being turned into export facilities. Three LNG ports have been given permission to export to countries without free trade agreements with the United States since 2011, with the latest being the Lake Charles, Louisiana terminal earlier this month.

According to Dan Mundy, co-founder of the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers, an export port would force the price of natural gas to increase due to the high demand. “We’re going to see gas prices increase,” Mundy said. Some environmentalists are also concerned that an increased demand would lead to more fracking practices around the country.

Roger Whelan, the president of Liberty Natural Gas, insists that the project is import only and that the port won’t have the equipment to be turned into an export facility and it would cost billions of dollars to change it.

In addition to the export concern, opponents also say that Port Ambrose would pose a risk to ecology and puts New York and New Jersey shore communities in harm’s way as they recover after Sandy. There are some concerns that a future hurricane could damage the proposed port or it could become a terrorist target or an explosion could occur. Liquid Natural Gas is not explosive, but if it were to leak and vaporize, it could be ignited easily and the vaporized gas has the potential to blow towards Far Rockaway depending on the wind.

According to the nonprofit group Clean Ocean Action, the port will affect all clean ocean uses such as fisheries, diving, recreation, tourism, and boating, as well as shipping and planned offshore wind facilities. Fishermen, divers and boats will be limited as they will not be able to use the area surrounding the port. COA also says the port would only create six permanent jobs, not 600 as the company has suggested.

Some also say the port and the large vessels used to transport LNG will be an eyesore. “We have a natural environment that we enjoy looking at. What if we looked out and saw an LNG island out in the ocean,” Mundy said. “Industrialization in this part of the ocean is a bad thing.” The company says that the port will be so far offshore, that it will barely be visible.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration are conducting an environmental review of the Port Ambrose proposal and the public has a chance to comment on the project until August 22nd. Comments can be made online by visiting www.regulations.gov, searching “Port Ambrose” and clicking on the first option.

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Thank you, Katie McFadden,

Thank you, Katie McFadden, for this very thorough article. Readers wanting to learn more about the possible outcomes of an LNG port becoming a terrorist target, can read this from the Council on Foreign Relations: http://www.cfr.org/natural-gas/liquefied-natural-gas-potential-terrorist...


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