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Queens Chronicle

Greens worry Liberty will export U.S. gas

Would a fuel port off the Rockaway Peninsula encourage hydrofracking?

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Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:59 am, Thu Sep 5, 2013.

The environmental group Clean Ocean Action is urging the corporations that seek to build and operate Port Ambrose, a facility planned to import liquified natural gas delivered by ships, to speak openly about their intentions for the port, which would be located about 20 miles from the Rockaways and include a pipe linking to the existing Transco pipeline, 2.2 miles offshore.

LNG is natural gas that has been cooled and condensed to one-six hundreth of its usual volume so that it can be shipped.

While Roger Whelan, the CEO of Liberty Natural Gas, a Delaware corporation headquarted in New York City, claims the port will only be used for imports, a broad coalition of environmentalists, including Cindy Zipf of Clean Ocean Action, say this is a “bold-faced myth” and that if the import facility is licensed, “it will only be a matter of paperwork” to convert it to an export port, and there will not be any public input.

“The port will definitely be used for exports and any attempt to make it sound like it’s for imports is just a joke,” said Dan Mundy Jr., a member of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatch, who is concerned about the port’s potential impacts on fish and wildlife in the New York bight.

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park) is staunchly opposed as well.

“I don’t doubt for a moment that the port will be used for exports,” he said, adding that Liberty’s claim that it is just for imports is “just a farce” to get the project through the licensing process.

Environmentalists across the state fear that exporting LNG would cause companies to ramp up natural gas extraction via hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale, which lies beneath upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

Bruce Ferguson, a member of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, said that exporting shale gas through Port Ambrose would increase political pressure to allow hydrofracking in New York, where the practice is not permitted because the state Department of Environmental Conservation has not completed an environmental impact study. The Assembly passed a moratorium, but the Senate did not vote on a similar bill before the legislative session ended in June. Queens state senators oppose fracking in New York.

“We are the new Third World, devastated by fracking,” he continued, citing proven groundwater contamination, among other harmful impacts of the drilling practice, in Dimok, Penn. and Pavillion, Wyo.

Many scientists now agree that although natural gas burns cleaner than oil and coal, escaped methane, combined with the energy used to extract and transport shale gas, make the fuel “dirtier” than oil and coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, which they say exacerbates climate change.

Ferguson added that the federal government is not considering the upstream impacts of hydrofracking in its review of Port Ambrose.

Liberty claims that the project has nothing to do with fracking and that they will not seek approval to switch from importing to exporting.

However, Clean Ocean Action believes that Roger Whelan is responsible for “creating an energy bridge” across the Atlantic to ship shale gas to England via Port Ambrose.

They cite the fact that Liberty Natural Gas is owned by West Face Long Term Opportunities Global Master, a $3 billion Cayman Island Investment Fund, which is managed by a Toronto affiliate called West Face Capital, which is also building a similar port outside Liverpool in the United Kingdom, called Port Meridian. H…egh LNG, a Norwegian company that specializes in transporting LNG, will operate both ports.

Clean Ocean Action is “calling on the federal government to require Liberty Natural Gas, West Face Capital, and H…egh LNG to disclose their connection and plans so there can be an open and transparent review,” said, Sean Dixon, a coastal policy attorney for the nonprofit.

“This connection is the final step needed to create this export window,” Zipf said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said in March, “Future gas supplies from the United States will help diversify our energy mix and provide British consumers with a new long-term, secure and affordable source of fuel.”

Liberty claims that the gas delivered to both Port Meridian and Port Ambrose will come from conventionally drilled natural gas fields in the Caribbean and that it has no involvement in any export projects and will not seek approval to export supplies from Port Ambrose.

Whelan said “the facilities will not have the cooling equipment that would be needed to liquefy gas for exports,” but H…egh LNG’s website states that they have “invested about 400,000 engineering man-hours in the development” of floating liquified natural gas solutions, which means that they can liquify the gas aboard their vessels.

Liberty claims that both Port Ambrose and Port Meridian are import-only projects, and will not utilize H…egh’s floating liquefaction technology.

The port’s opponents also say that while U.S. domestic natural gas production is at an all-time high and prices are lower than ever in America, exporting natural gas to Europe and Asia, where natural gas commands prices four to six times higher, is irresistible to companies.

The U.S. Deepwater Port Act was recently amended to allow up to 40 percent of domestically produced gas to be exported, and several ports have already been approved for conversion, with 22 more pending, according to the Department of Energy’s website.

“This will be a disaster for the American consumer because our industry will have to compete,” Ferguson said, meaning that shipping gas overseas will raise prices for Americans.

The port’s opponents argue that an import port is unnecessary, but Roger Whelan argues that the port will “replicate the Boston experience” by enabling deliveries during peak seasons to keep energy costs down.

However, Liberty’s Port Neptune, outside of Boston, was shut down in July for the next five years because there is no demand for imported gas.

Port Ambrose is currently undergoing the federal approval process required by the Deepwater Port Act, regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Marine Administrator. The public comment period ended on Aug. 22. Thousands of people commented, with the vast majority opposing the project, and the agencies will have until Feb. 8, 2014 to complete their review, including releasing the draft and final environmental impact statements and holding public hearings.

“We are confident that through this thorough review process we will be able to prove the merits of the project to the public,” Liberty said in a statement.

Both Gov. Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie can veto the project and Christie already vetoed a similar project in 2011 due to economic and environmental concerns.

Mundy said that constructing the port and pipelines will destroy the ocean floor and create an exclusion zone in a productive fishing habitat and create a terrorist threat.

Meanwhile, the 2.7-mile Rockaway Lateral pipeline, which will connect the Transco pipeline to the Rockaways and Brooklyn, is still awaiting approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, although some components which do not require federal approval are already under construction.

Williams, the company that operates the 10,000 mile Transco pipeline, which delivers about half of the city’s natural gas to National Grid and Con Edison, filed an application for the expansion in January 2013.

Stockton said that the pipes trajectory, through Jacob Riis Park, Jamaica Bay, and Floyd Bennett Field, was selected because it will have minimal impacts on the environment and people. He added that the pipe will be drilled horizontally under the beach to avoid the harms caused by trenching or dredging.

Mundy said that he is concerned about the artificial reefs, which are “loaded with life” and the DEC considers essential fish habitats. He hopes that Williams will provide offset mitigation for the coral reef or for wetlands in the bay.

The pipeline has no connection to Port Ambrose, according to Williams spokesman Chris Stockton, and the gas will only be able to go in one direction, although their pipes elsewhere, such as Pennsylvania, are bi-directional.

“We’re adding another delivery point,” Stockton said. “As the city’s need for gas grows, we’re obligated to add whatever facilities necessary to keep up with gas needs.”

Williams provides gas from a variety of sources, including the Gulf of Mexico, Canada, shale gas from Ohio, Louisiana and Texas and LNG imports from Maryland.

“We have an ample supply that we’re connected to and have access to, to provide service for a very long time,” Stockton said.

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