Environmental Group Appeals ‘Arbitrary’ DEP Permit for South Jersey LNG Terminal

Jon Hurdle | October 22, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Delaware Riverkeeper Network says officials didn’t have enough evidence to approve application
Tanker berthed at LNG terminal in ArcticCredit: Creative Commons
Tanker berthed at LNG terminal in Arctic

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network said Monday it appealed a permit issued by New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection for construction of the state’s first liquefied natural-gas export terminal at Gibbstown on the Delaware River. The DRN said officials had failed to consider all the ways the project would impact people and the environment.

The environmental group called DEP’s approval “arbitrary, unreasonable, and contrary to law.” It said officials didn’t have enough evidence to determine whether the project would hurt water quality and did not require a stormwater permit or an investigation by the developer into contamination on the 370-acre Superfund site that was used by DuPont for making explosives and chemicals.

The appeal says the DEP’s waterfront development permit violates regulations on coastal zone management that are intended to protect coastal and water resources.

Warning of ‘catastrophic harm’

In an appeal filed with the New Jersey Superior Court on Oct. 18, the DRN said the potentially explosive LNG that would be trans-shipped at the terminal could do “catastrophic harm” to people and that dredging and riverfront development for the new port would harm the natural environment.

It said the permit represented “an egregious failure by NJDEP to implement required protections.” DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said the department does not comment on active litigation.

The LNG plan by Delaware River Partners, a developer, would expand an original proposal for a dock and one berth for ships that carry cars and dry and perishable cargo, creating a facility called Gibbstown Logistics Center. In addition, bulk liquids such as propane and butane would be stored on site using a cavern built by DuPont.

The expanded project would load LNG onto oceangoing tankers after trucking it from a planned liquefaction plant in Bradford County, PA, one of the “sweet spots” of the state’s natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale. Delaware River Partners is affiliated with New Fortress Energy, which plans to build the liquefaction plant.

The plan has drawn strong opposition from DRN and other environmental groups who argue that it would endanger people living in Gibbstown and along a 175-mile route from Wyalusing in northeastern Pennsylvania to the new terminal. The critics also say the project will boost fossil-fuel production as states including New Jersey and Pennsylvania set aggressive goals for cutting carbon emissions.

Dispute over truck traffic

The developer and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — one of the agencies that must issue permits for the project — have estimated there would be some 360 trucks visiting the new port around the clock. But McCormick Taylor, a transportation consultant for Gloucester County, said in a report there would be 1,650 truck trips in and out of the port every day. The company did not return calls seeking an explanation for its estimate.

On May 20, the DEP issued a permit for a second dock and berths but suspended it on June 5 because of an administrative issue. It lifted the suspension on Sept. 10, prompting DRN’s appeal.

The DRN said DEP corrected an early mistake in the public notice of its draft permit but then issued an identical final permit despite many “critical and substantive” public comments.

DRN’s head, Maya van Rossum, said there are good grounds for the appeal.

“We believe there are genuine legal concerns that need to be vindicated,” she wrote in an email. “We are also guided by the threatened impact of the underlying issue and the precedent that is being set.”

If built, the terminal would add to America’s growing capacity to export LNG, a super-cooled form of the abundant natural gas that has been harvested in Pennsylvania and other states since the widespread adoption of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, about a decade ago. Most existing export terminals are on the Gulf Coast but one is on the East Coast, at Cove Point, MD.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, which is not involved in the permit challenge, said it appears to be on a good legal footing in its claim that the DEP issued a water-quality permit without examining all the impacts of the plan.

“How can [the DEP] say that this facility, when they didn’t even know all the impact it’s going to have, meets Clean Water Act 401 determination? I think they have a good case,” he said, referring to DRN.

Sierra Club’s own permit appeals tend to succeed about a quarter of the time, while the courts send about half back to regulators after determining some deficiency, Tittel said.

A spokeswoman for Delaware River Partners did not respond to a request for comment on the DRN’s action.

The project needs permits from a number of federal and state agencies including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the Department of Energy, and the Delaware River Basin Commission, which has said it will reconsider the dredging and construction aspects of the plan after approving them earlier this year. The DRBC is due to hold an administrative hearing on the application but has not yet named a date.