In a small victory for environmentalists, the U.S. Coast Guard and federal Marine Administration have put a hold on a controversial project to build a liquefied natural-gas terminal off the Jersey coast.
The Liberty Natural Gas project generated enormous opposition during hearings on the proposal from conservationists, lawmakers, and Gov. Chris Christie, who vetoed another version of the project four years ago.
In refusing to act on the latest version of the initiative, federal authorities said in a letter issued earlier this month that they still lack information necessary to complete the final environmental impact statement and determine the project’s financial viability.
While the project still may go forward, critics of the proposal welcomed the delay.
“From our perspective, we have them on the run,’’ said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. “It’s clear we have Liberty Natural Gas on the run, but the fight is not over and we will continue to fight until the ship has officially sunk.’’
According to the company’s website, the LNG terminal, dubbed Port Ambrose, would be built more than 20 miles off Monmouth Beach and about 19 miles off Long Beach, Long Island. The port would be built offshore and serviced by custom LNG tankers that would convert the gas to a liquid state and then pump it ashore.
The project is the latest one envisioned by energy companies to tap into cheap natural gas supplies found in the Marcellus Shale formations in Pennsylvania and other states. Environmentalists fear the facility would export the fuel internationally, raising costs to consumers here who have benefitted from lower natural gas prices.
Liberty Natural Gas did not respond to a call for a comment on the decision. No exports will take place from the facility, according to the company’s website.
But the website also notes that New York is currently the fourth-largest state in the country when it comes to natural gas. But because it is at the end of the pipeline built to transport the fuel from western Canada and the Gulf of Mexico, its consumers and businesses pay more than most other customers.
To Zipf, however, those arguments demonstrate that the project will have no benefits to New Jersey consumers. “The pipeline delivers gas to Long Island,’’ she said.
Other environmentalists also welcomed the decision.
“Any time the Coast Guard, which I think would rubber stamp it, if they hold it up it’s a victory,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
The proposal is one of more than a dozen natural-gas terminals under consideration by federal authorities around the country. They all face stiff opposition from local authorities. Zipf claimed not a single elected official in either New Jersey or New York has publicly supported the proposal. More than 60,000 people in opposition to the plan submitted comments to federal authorities, she said.
When and if the environmental impact statement is completed and a final public hearing is held, the governors of both states can veto the project, impose new conditions, or approve the proposal.