A decision on whether to approve permits for a Liquefied Natural Gas export facility at a southern New Jersey port has been postponed by a commission whose members are appointed by four governors, including from New York. Environmentalists oppose the proposed facility, saying it will threaten nearby communities and the Delaware River.
The Delaware River Basin Commission voted to delay a decision on whether to approve permits for New Fortress Energy’s proposed liquefied natural gas, or LNG, port facility in Gibbstown, New Jersey. The governors of Delaware, New Jersey and New York, or their representatives, voted for the delay, while Pennsylvania abstained. A division engineer of the Army Corps of Engineers voted in support of granting the permits. Wes Gillingham is associate director of Catskill Mountainkeeper.
“This was a huge victory in that they didn’t allow construction to start on September 15th, which could have happened,” says Gillingham. “But it’s just a postponement. It doesn’t kill the deal.”
The vote to postpone the decision was based on the need for more time to assess the proposal and take a closer look at the issues involved. A New York state Department of Environmental Conservation spokesperson, in a statement, says, “It is important that all representatives on the Delaware River Basin Commission and the public have time to review all proceedings and decisions that come before the commission. In this instance, DEC, as member of the DRBC, joined with other states to advance this stay to ensure a careful review of the proceedings in this matter could be conducted. “ A request for comment from New Fortress Energy was not returned in time for this broadcast. Again, Gillingham.
“That vote prevents them from starting construction on this LNG facility that was originally supposed to go to Ireland and Puerto Rico. And both of those places are fighting that,” Gillingham says. “It’s not going to Ireland anymore because the communities there have stopped that, and there was a court case in the EU to win that.”
Gillingham says the proposed LNG export terminal along the Delaware River would act as a hub for fracked gas exports. It would be the first project of its kind in New Jersey. Ahead of the September 10th DRBC vote, Catskill Mountainkeeper and other groups launched a petition to urge the commissioners to vote against the facility, and secured more than 71,000 signatures. Also ahead of the vote, actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, a Catskill Mountainkeeper board member, posted a video to Twitter urging viewers to sign the change.org petition. His video starts by referring to the fracking industry as trying to transport liquefied fracked gas by truck and rail cars down the Delaware River, which provides drinking water to some 15 million people.
“The liquefied gas is so explosive that 22 rail cars would have the same force as a Hiroshima bomb,” Ruffalo says. “Now this crazy Trump-backed plan has moved forward in total secrecy without any serious study or public comment despite grave concerns by medical experts and environmentalists.”
Ruffalo and other environmentalists are now focused on pushing the DRBC to vote against allowing the permits needed for the project to proceed. Meantime, Gillingham says the four states in the DRBC are among those suing the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration over a new rule that allows the transport of LNG by rail, and questions why they wouldn’t squelch the whole idea from the get-go.
“In New York, we dealt with the whole bomb train issue from Bakken oil, but liquid natural gas in a container, in an improper container, traveling across communities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey is beyond bomb trains,” says Gillingham.
Plus, says Gillingham, it would be hypocritical for New York to support construction of the facility when the vote on the LNG proposal next arises, given the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act passed last year.
“We’ve banned fracking in our state, and then we would vote for something that would allow LNG export, which flies in the face of any good climate policy and then also opens up central Pennsylvania and eastern Pennsylvania to more fracking and more impacts on our borders over fracking buildout,” Gillingham says. “It would be really embarrassing, I think, for our governor to vote for something like that.”
The DRBC has scheduled its fourth quarter business meeting for December 9.