Opposition to offshore L.N.G. facility gears up
By the end of this year, developers of a controversial offshore liquefied natural gas plant are expected to release an environmental impact statement for the project, starting the clock for federal approval and the potential veto of governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo.
Opponents on Long Island and in New York City and New Jersey are already planning their attack.
The project, called Port Ambrose, is being developed by Liberty Natural Gas. It would import liquefied natural gas and deliver 400 million cubic feet of natural gas to Long Island and other areas during peak demand periods. Part of the project includes a 22-mile pipeline connecting to an existing pipeline between New Jersey and Long Island. Its stated purpose is to ease transmission bottlenecks that sent gas prices soaring during last winter's polar vortex.
Environmentalists are opposed to the project, mainly because it further promotes hydrofracking and contributes to global warming. Liquefied natural gas, or L.N.G., is natural gas that is cooled and condensed to a potent liquid form for shipping. It is then "regasified" and delivered through pipelines.
Aside from the environmental concerns, opponents have raised security issues that are shared by some unlikely potential allies—Christie among them.
In 2011, the New Jersey governor, citing safety concerns for residents of the Jersey Shore, vetoed a similar proposal by the same developers.
The new project is smaller and further offshore. It would sit about 28 miles east of Highlands, New Jersey, and about 18 miles south of Long Beach, Long Island.
In comments last year, Christie softened his stance on the project, though he still expressed skepticism.
“I vetoed that once already, they’re coming back again now,” he said. “I’m skeptical, but I need to keep an open mind. But I feel like I will need to make a decision.”
Because of the project's location, Cuomo will also have the option to veto it. Neither Christie's office nor Cuomo responded to inquiries about their current positions on the plant.
Liberty Natural Gas recently donated $25,000 to Governor Andrew Cuomo's re-election campaign, according to the most recent filings with the state Board of Elections.
More than 100 environmental advocates gathered at a union hall in Bellmore last week to mobilize volunteers and petition Cuomo to kill the project.
In addition to fracking concerns, opponents say the floating gas plant would be vulnerable to storms and terrorist attacks.
"Port Ambrose is located in an area that experienced storm surge and wave heights of up to 30 feet during Hurricane Sandy," said Cassandra Ornell, a staff scientist at Clean Ocean Action, a New Jersey-based environmental group. "This would be a grave security risk. We have this port being located outside one of the busiest harbors in the country."
But Liberty Natural Gas says the station would be designed to withstand hurricanes and would be built under the supervision of the U.S. Coast Guard.
"The United States Coast Guard and the U.S. Maritime Administration are in the process of evaluating the Port Ambrose project to make sure it meets all of their rigorous safety and environmental guidelines," Liberty C.E.O. Robert Whelan said in a statement. "We are confident it will."
Officials from New York City and the New York Power Authority also have voiced concerns the plant will interfere with a proposed nearby wind farm.
In comments submitted to the U.S. Maritime Administration, Michael Delaney, the city's director of energy regulatory affairs under former ayor Mike Bloomberg and current Mayor Bill de Blasio cited "navigation hazards and the potential for direct conflicts between the proposed L.N.G. facility and its associated ship traffic, and a large wind farm that would be located in adjacent waters."
Delaney also voiced concern over shipping traffic into the Port of New York, already one of the busiest in the world.
"The buffer zones required for safety around such vessels and L.N.G. terminals would greatly extend the exclusion area in a zone that is already highly congested," he wrote in 2013.
Critics are questioning whether the project is even necessary. Downstate New York is already building out its natural gas pipeline capacity and supplies have never been more abundant. In fact, most New York utilities are predicting lower gas prices for the winter.
Opponents also fear the plant will try to switch form an import to an export facility as the U.S. grows more interested in exporting its energy boom of recent years.
"There is no policy in place for how a facility would switch from imports to exports," Ornell said in an interview. "The process would likely involve just a permit amendment. We are a bit concerned that it could be a very simple process that would not involve any public comment."
Liberty officials said the facility was not designed for exports and would be strictly for imports. They hope to have the $600 million facility ready for the 2017-2018 heating season, according to compnay literature.
Once the plant's impact statement is released, the public will have a chance to comment. When public comments conclude, Cuomo and Christie will have 45 days to either sign off on the project or veto it. If either one of the governors vetoes the project, it will fail.