While Liberty Natural Gas, LLC thinks a deepwater port about 20 miles from the entrance to New York Harbor is exactly what New York and New Jersey need to keep fuel prices down, residents and environmentalists believe the proposal is outrageous and a scam.
Dan Mundy Jr., a member of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatch, strongly opposes the port. He called it a terrorist threat and an environmental disaster “with no benefit to the country.”
Liberty Natural Gas submitted an application to the government to construct and operate Port Ambrose, a facility for importing liquified natural gas from Trinidad and Tobago. Specially designed vessels carrying liquified natural gas would regasify the fuel on-board and feed it into loading buoys and pipes which would link to the existing Transco pipeline, near Jacob Riis Park in the Rockaways. The project would cost $300 million.
Liquified natural gas, or LNG, is primarily methane, cooled and condensed into liquid form, so that it is one six-hundredth of its usual volume, which makes it possible to ship.
According to Roger Whelan, the president of Liberty Natural Gas, natural gas prices in New York spike during the winter and summer months and importing the gas would keep prices down. Whelan claims the port will save consumers $325 million per year.
Opponents of the port, including Mundy, argue that there is no need to import natural gas as domestic production is at an all-time high and prices are lower than ever.
Whelan said that it is difficult to build new pipelines across New York City and a ship-based operation costs less.
“Our expectation is that we can replicate the Boston experience, where in recent winters new LNG projects reduced the winter price spikes by over 50 percent,” Whelan said.
However, the two LNG ports outside Boston have been so underutilized that there are plans to close them.
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.
H…egh LNG of Norway, a global shipping company, would operate the port and supply the vessels, which would transport the LNG.
Environmental groups including Clean Ocean Action and the Surfriders Coalition contend that the entire proposal is a ruse and that the Liberty Natural Gas will convert Port Ambrose to an export facility to sell domestically produced natural gas abroad for a profit.
“There is no truth to the claim,” Whelan countered. “No exports will occur from the project. The facilities will not have the cooling equipment that would be needed to liquify gas for exports, and the project permits would not allow exports to occur through the facility under any circumstances.”
However, H…egh LNG’s website states that it is devoting substantial resources toward developing floating LNG solutions, to liquify the gas on the vessels for export.
Meanwhile, nearly every Congressional hearing on liquified natural gas focuses on exports, and several LNG ports in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Oregon are seeking approval to convert from import to export facilities.
If an import facility is constructed, Liberty would be able to petition the government to convert it without additional environmental review or public input, according to Sean Dixon, a coastal policy attorney from Clean Ocean Action, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Groups and coalitions from all over New York that oppose hydrofracking are also against the port because natural gas exports would crank up the demand for fracking.
Dixon said that while environmentalists once applauded natural gas because it burns cleaner than oil or coal, over the last decade, studies have proven that the life-cycle impact of natural gas extraction exacerbate climate change more than coal and oil. He added that LNG is “dirtier” than regular natural gas because of the energy required to transport and regasify the fuel.
Building the port would entail trenching 20 miles of ocean floor to build the pipeline, increasing underwater noise and dumping massive quantities of warm water, severely damaging the ocean habitat, where a variety of fishes, crustaceans, whales and dolphins live. Testing the pipe requires 3.5 million gallons of chemically-treated seawater each time.
Whelan said that the damage to the seabed is temporary and that it will be restored once the pipe is laid. He also maintained that the port and pipeline construction will use “proven and safe technology,” that has been used elsewhere.
Mundy said that the port would be a terrorist threat and that if the natural gas were to hit the warm ocean water, it would be like a “mini-nuclear bomb” and the plume of smoke would blow ashore.
Port Ambrose would also require an exclusion zone in public waters, where no one will be able to boat, swim, dive or fish. The port will be in the “Collar of Angst,” a flourishing fish habitat, according to Mundy.
The proposed area of interest for the Long Island-New York City Offshore Wind Collaborative, for which the New York Power Authority filed a lease, overlaps with the site for Port Ambrose.
“We believe this to be the preferred use for the site,” a NYPA spokeswoman said.
Whelan thinks the two projects can coexist because the buoys at Port Ambrose and the exclusion zone only take up less than 1 percent of the 127-acre area identified for the wind farm.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) opposes the port and sent a letter to Cuomo, urging him to reject the plan.
“This proposal would industrialize the pristine ocean area that is a staple of our community, while inflating natural gas prices by exporting the product to overseas markets — a burden our middle class families cannot afford,” Goldfeder wrote.
He also mentioned that families in southern Queens and the Rockaways are recovering from Hurricane Sandy and said the project requires more investigation.
The public comment period was extended until Aug. 22, after which the U.S. Coast Guard and Marine Administrator will draft an Environmental Impact Statement, in accordance with the Deepwater Port Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Then there will be another round of public meetings, before the final EIS comes out.
Then both governors, Cuomo and Chris Christie of New Jersey, will approve or disapprove the project and the marine administrator will make the final decision.