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Plans for LNG Terminal in South Jersey Kept Under Wraps, Enviro Group Says

Developer and agencies deny effort to shield from public view plans that would allow for transfer of potentially explosive liquefied natural gas to ocean-going tankers

LNG truck
Credit: Flickr

Plans to build a liquefied natural gas export terminal at Gibbstown in Greenwich Township, Gloucester County have not been fully disclosed to the public by regulatory agencies or by the developer of the site on the Delaware River in South Jersey, an environmental group says.

Delaware Riverkeeper Network accused the developer, Delaware River Partners, and several regulators of not doing enough to keep the public informed of the plan to build the terminal that would transfer super-cooled natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale via trucks to ocean-going tankers.

Although documents from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Greenwich Township show that the LNG plan has in fact received some disclosure, Delaware Riverkeeper says the project has been mostly kept hidden from the public despite concerns that LNG is potentially explosive, and that the terminal would represent an expansion of fossil-fuel infrastructure amid global efforts to curb carbon emissions.

Calling the matter “a deliberate coverup,” DRN accused the agencies and the company of trying to avoid public criticism by keeping the plans quiet.

“There would be no reason not to disclose this critical body of information other than to evade a full and fair review by agencies and the public,” the group said in a letter to environmental officials in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and other regulators.

Multi-use marine terminal

DRN said it has since 2016 been monitoring a plan to build a multi-use marine terminal called Gibbstown Logistics Center on a former DuPont site but only learned of a proposal to add the LNG terminal after “conversations” with agency staff.

“At no time throughout Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s participation in the public review of this project was the export of LNG from the facility ever discussed,” DRN told the agencies.

It urged the DRBC to cancel a June 6 hearing scheduled to discuss the addition of a dock including two deep-water berths at the Gibbstown facility, and said the agency had not mentioned LNG exports in any of its public documents relating to the hearing.

DRBC, an interstate regulator of water quality in the river basin, said the LNG plan had not been included in a permit application from Delaware River Partners (DRP) but that the regulator has no plans to cancel the hearing.

“If DRP had included LNG export in its project description in its application to the commission … DRBC would have included that description in both of the draft dockets and related public notices,” said Kate Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the agency.

‘Accepted at face value’

In December 2017, DRBC approved the company’s application for a multi-use marine terminal that would include “bulk liquids and gases handling” and “accepted that at face value,” Schmidt wrote in an email.

LNG carrier
Credit: http://photozou.jp/photo/show/254715/24141912

The United States began exporting liquefied natural gas in early 2016 in response to a surge in domestic production caused by hydraulic fracking of shale reserves. Most export terminals are on the Gulf Coast but they also include one at Cove Point in Maryland.

LNG exports from abundant U.S. gas reserves such as those in Pennsylvania are being touted by the Trump administration as a way of promoting U.S. notions of freedom around the world.

Last week, the U.S. Under Secretary of Energy, Mark W. Menezes, called LNG “freedom gas” when announcing plans for a new export terminal in Texas.

“Increasing export capacity from the Freeport LNG project is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world by giving America’s allies a diverse and affordable source of clean energy,” Menezes said in an Energy Department press release.

Accused of trying ‘to hide the ball’

For the planned Gibbstown facility, Delaware River Partners is talking to potential customers who are interested in “transloading a variety of energy related liquids, potentially including liquefied natural gas,” said Liz Thomas, a spokeswoman. She said the company has notified all relevant permitting agencies of its plans.

One of the agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, issued a public notice on April 4 saying the site would be used to handle a “multitude” of products including LNG, which would be brought in by truck or rail and then loaded onto ships. Steve Rochette, a spokesman for the Corps’ Philadelphia office, said the notice was sent to DRN and other environmental groups.

But Maya van Rossum, head of Delaware Riverkeeper, said the Corps’ brief mention of LNG doesn’t excuse it of failing to publicly and thoroughly investigate the proposal.

“The Army Corps is among the parties involved who sought to hide the ball through lack of information and clear and obvious obfuscation,” she said.

Van Rossum said the Corps had not disclosed plans for LNG in its response to Freedom of Information Act filings by DRN, and its staff had not told DRN anything about the LNG part of the Gibbstown plan.

LNG would be trucked to Gibbstown

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to questions on whether it had approved the terminal as part of the Gibbstown project or whether the developer had disclosed a plan to transfer LNG, but cited a letter from the company to Greenwich Township officials, saying that the terminal’s uses would include the transfer of LNG.

“This marine terminal is planned to include uses such as an automobile import and processing facility, a bulk liquids storage and handling facility for the transfer of liquefied natural gas and other materials, as well as perishables and bulk cargo handling and logistics,” the letter said.

If implemented, the Pennsylvania gas would be liquefied at a new plant in Bradford County, Pa., and then trucked to Gibbstown, according to a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission by New Fortress Energy, developer of the liquefaction plant. The $800 million plant would be able to produce 3-4 million gallons a day of LNG.

Jon Hurdle is an environmental writer who lives in Philadelphia and covers water-related issues for NJ Spotlight.

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