DRBC Urged to Withdraw Its Approval for South Jersey LNG Terminal

Environmental groups say agency ‘rushed’ its decision, must reconsider in light of new information
Credit: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead via Flickr
President Donald Trump visites Cameron LNG terminal in Hackberry, Louisiana.

Environmentalists representing 126 groups in four states on Monday urged the Delaware River Basin Commission to reverse its approval of a plan to build New Jersey’s first liquefied natural gas export terminal.

The groups argued that the interstate water regulator didn’t consider a range of environmental impacts when it approved dredging for the controversial project last June and should now withdraw its permit in light of information that has since been presented in a public hearing.

They accused DRBC of making a “rushed” decision to approve the project, and said it had not taken into account the impacts of round-the-clock loading of LNG and other petroleum products; development of the former DuPont explosives factory site where the new terminal would be built; dangers to coastal and inland communities associated with the transportation and loading of LNG and other fuels; and  exacerbation of climate change from the production of more natural gas.

“This project will have substantial negative impacts on the Delaware River, its water quality, its habitats, and the species that live in and depend on the River, Estuary and Bay,” the groups wrote in a letter to the DRBC. They also urged the public to sign a petition calling on the DRBC to reverse its decision on the terminal.

Threat to local communities

It would also threaten the health and safety of local communities including Gibbstown and Greenwich Township, as well as the Pennsylvania towns of Tinicum and Chester, an environmental-justice community, none of which have had a say in how or whether the project should go ahead, the letter said.

The terminal would ship LNG — a supercooled form of natural gas — from a planned liquefaction plant at Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, to Gibbstown, a distance of about 175 miles, by truck or train. The fuel would then be loaded onto tankers and shipped overseas. The highly explosive fuel would not be manufactured or stored at the site but still represent a safety threat to Gibbstown residents and those along the route from Pennsylvania, critics say.

Kate Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the DRBC, declined to comment on Monday afternoon, saying the agency had not yet received the letter. The DRBC represents the water interests of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware plus the federal government.

Opposition to the project is being led by the environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network, whose deputy director, Tracy Carluccio, said the DRBC should reconsider its approval in light of information presented at an “adjudicatory hearing” — a trial-like proceeding held by the regulator last month to consider all sides of the issue.

“A lot of information was brought out that was not available when the commissioners made their decision,” Carluccio said during a conference call with reporters and activists. Among the new information was the spread of about a century’s worth of industrial contamination as the site is disturbed by the new development, and a lack of testing of an especially polluted area of the site.

The DRBC agreed to hold the unusual hearing to give the DRN a chance to argue why the project should not go ahead, but has said the event did not mean that the commission sees a need to make a different decision.

Terminal part of larger complex

Delaware River Partners, a unit of New Fortress Energy, wants to build the terminal as an extension of a complex called the Gibbstown Logistics Center which is already under construction.

The company did not respond to a request for comment on Monday but told the hearing that it has conducted detailed reviews on the impacts on water and aquatic life, and has been approved by federal, state and local regulators.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said the number of groups and their wide geographic spread shows broad public support for the initiative.

“The reason why we’re seeing such a grassroots response to this push by Delaware River Partners is because the DRBC has been trying to rush through this review of this massive LNG facility,” he said. “We’re looking at a carbon bomb on the river, we’re looking at innumerable safety hazards up and down the watershed.

“It’s time for the DRBC to take a second look at this project and look at the full lifecycle and watershed impacts. That’s what all of these organizations are asking for, for DRBC not to rush this through,” O’Malley said.

The letter said the project would stimulate the production of fracked gas and lead to the leakage of more methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The groups argued that DRBC approval of the project would be at odds with the DRBC’s recognition of the threat of climate change, as shown by its new panel of climate-change advisers.

Environmental groups argue that the project, which would ship fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania’s gas-rich Marcellus Shale, would boost fossil fuel use at a time when many cities and states — though not the federal government — are setting ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.

In July or August, the commission is expected to receive a recommendation on how to proceed from John Kelly, a Pennsylvania official who presided over the eight-day hearing. The commission is not required to accept the recommendation.

In December of last year, the federal pipeline-safety agency approved the nation’s first LNG-by-rail permit specifically for the Gibbstown project. The agency’s move followed an executive order by President Donald Trump calling for new regulation that would allow LNG to be carried by train, in line with some other supercooled fuels.