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Critics Claim LNG Import Terminal Is Really Meant for Exports

"Trojan Horse" terminal off north Jersey will actually distribute natural gas fracked from Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, opponents argue.

Opponents of plans to build a natural gas import terminal off the North Jersey coast urged federal officials late Wednesday to reject the project, saying the facility was in fact a Trojan Horse for an export terminal for abundant gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale.

Around 200 people, many of them critics of the proposal, gathered in Edison for a public meeting with representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard and Maritime Administration who together will decide on the application from its developer, Liberty Natural Gas LLC.

Speakers from environmental groups including Clean Ocean Action and the Sierra Club dismissed a statement by Keith Lesnick, a Maritime Administration official, that the proposal is for an import terminal only, and that any plans for exports would require a separate permit application.

“The reality is, this is about exports,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. “There is too much money in the Marcellus Shale.”

With an estimated 100 years’ worth of domestic shale gas available, and plentiful current supply, there is no need for the U.S. to be importing the fuel from overseas where prices are higher, Zipf and other critics said.

The opponents also accused officials of allowing too little time for public comment, and for holding New Jersey’s only public meeting on the proposal at an obscure location away from the Shore, which would feel the greatest impact.

Abundant U.S. supplies have driven the natural gas price down to below $4 per million British thermal units, below both the cost of production and current market prices in Europe and Asia.

As a result, U.S. gas companies are looking to sell gas in more profitable overseas markets, and aim to do so via the proposed terminal, opponents argued. They noted that the facility, planned for 24 miles off Long Branch, would be close to the Marcellus Shale, one of the world’s biggest natural gas reserves, which underlies about two-thirds of Pennsylvania.

“Given all the gas in this country, there is no need for an import terminal,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We believe it will become an export terminal.” He said the facility could be easily converted for exports by using different ships.

The deep-water port terminal would be built about 27 miles from the entrance to New York harbor in approximately 103 feet of water, and would be serviced by purpose-built LNG tankers that would vaporize the gas on site. The gas would be pumped ashore in 19 miles of pipeline beneath the seabed, according to the application, which was announced by officials on June 14. If approved, the project would be commissioned by December 2015.

The project is similar to one that has been twice vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie, most recently in 2011. Michael Drewniak, Christie’s spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment on the latest proposal.

Federal officials are considering applications for more than a dozen natural gas export terminals around the country.

Critics argue that exports of shale gas would stimulate higher production, heightening the risk of ground water contamination by chemicals used in the controversial gas-extraction process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Supporters say selling natural gas overseas would generate jobs and boost export earnings.

Opponents at the meeting included U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone who said the project is at odds with the Obama Administration’s goal of promoting wind energy off the Atlantic Coast, and could threaten the economically vital tourist industry along the Jersey Shore if there’s a spill of LNG.

“Any energy development in the Atlantic should be from renewable sources and not polluting fossil fuels,” Pallone said in a statement that was read to the meeting by an aide.

But Robert Remm, a retired HVAC engineer from Barnegat Light, said renewable fuels would not be sufficient to meet overall energy needs, and so natural gas, including from imports, is needed.

“It’s necessary to have the means to transport the fuel to the Eastern Seaboard, and the least impact is probably this port,” he told the meeting.

He dismissed what he called the “rhetoric” of the terminal’s opponents, saying their criticisms were “for the most part unfounded.”

Jon Hurdle is a Philadelphia-based freelance reporter who covers energy, environmental, and general news for national and regional media.

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