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Groups Call For More Public Input On Proposed Deepwater Gas Port Off NY Coast

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NEW YORK — Over 100 environmental groups from New York, New Jersey and other states are seeking to extend the public comment period for a proposed deepwater liquefied natural gas port off the New York coast.

The port will increase the supply of natural gas in the New York City-metro area.

The port “could pose a major security threat to a densely populated area, risks burdening the region’s ecosystems with air and water pollution, and will tend to discourage investment in renewable energy supplies,” the groups said in a letter sent to federal authorities today.

In their letter to the Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, the coalition, led by Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy and Clean Ocean Action, charged that the time allotted — 30 days — for public comment on the project’s scoping documents was insufficient.

“It is manifestly unfair to expect either the general public or concerned individuals with scientific and technical expertise to submit thoughtful and comprehensive scoping comments on an application of over fifteen hundred pages by July 24,” the groups stated.

The coalition has also requested that more public scoping hearings be scheduled, in addition to those currently planned for July 9, in Long Beach, N.Y., and July 10, in Edison, N.J.

Liberty Natural Gas, the project’s developer, argues that the port “will have a significant downward impact on natural gas prices in the [downstate New York] area, as well as on the price of gas-fired electricity.”

In a statement responding to today’s letter, Liberty CEO Roger Whelan noted that, “These [scoping] meetings are the first step in the comprehensive federal and state review process that will take place over the next year.” He added that the port project “will provide 600 good paying jobs [and] invest over $90 million into the local economy."

The federal Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard are responsible for reviewing the project.

In its notice of intent published in the Federal Register on June 24, the Maritime Administration noted that after the public scoping session for the port closes, it will prepare a draft “environmental impact statement” that the public will have the opportunity to comment on.

Natural gas from the facility, known as Port Ambrose, will be able to reach New York City consumers directly via the proposed Rockaway pipeline.

Port Ambrose’s buoy system and pipeline infrastructure — lying in 100-foot ocean waters — would be located 17 miles southeast of Jones Beach and 27 miles away from the entrance to New York Harbor.

Port Ambrose would be situated within an area now under review for a major off-shore wind farm. It would also be located along the New York Bight, the coastal indentation made famous by Hurricane Sandy because of its powerful contribution to storm surges.

The port site is also 24 nautical miles east of Long Branch, N.J.

A spokesman for Liberty, which describes itself as “a portfolio company of a fund advised by West Face Capital, a Toronto, Canada based investment management firm,” said that the port was designed to receive incoming liquefied natural gas from Trinidad and Tobago and other foreign locations.

Some environmental groups have challenged this representation of the project, saying that the proposed port could just as easily be re-engineered to ship natural gas out of the U.S. for export. They argue that Port Ambrose would stimulate demand for natural gas extracted from shale sources in the Northeast, leading to heightened pressure on underground water sources.

“Any permit issued for a deepwater LNG port is for import and export,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, one of the groups that signed the letter. “There is no public interest in allowing a LNG to be established in our region … It would begin the demise of our clean ocean economies … [It is] the fossil fuel industrialization of the ocean.”

According to Liberty, after incoming frozen gas is warmed and “re-gasified,” it will be transferred from Port Ambrose into a new 22-mile subsea pipeline system feeding directly into the Transco Lower New York Bay Lateral pipeline. The Transco Lateral pipeline runs parallel to the Rockaway coast.

The Transco pipeline will, in turn, connect with the proposed Rockaway pipeline, which is to travel along the ocean floor, eventually running underneath Jacob Riis Park and Jamaica Bay, into Brooklyn and Queens. Both the Transco and Rockaway pipelines are managed by Oklahoma-based Williams Companies.

The section of the Rockaway pipeline underneath Jamaica Bay is managed by National Grid and is already under construction. The ocean-floor section of the pipeline, along with a gas and metering station to be constructed at Floyd Bennett Field, are undergoing a lengthy federal environmental review process.

The Port Ambrose project represents a new attempt by Liberty to build a liquefied natural gas facility along the East Coast. An earlier project, to have been constructed sixteen miles off the coast of Asbury Park, N.J., was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011.

After his veto, Governor Christie was quoted as saying, “I take very seriously our obligation to protect the environmental health of our coastal waters … Offshore LNG poses unacceptable risks to the state's residents, natural resources, economy and security. We must ensure that our 126 miles of shoreline remain an economic driver for tourism and that our fishing and shellfish industries remain healthy and productive now and for future generations.”

Liberty says that concerns raised by the state of New Jersey have led to a more environmentally sensitive facility proposed for New York. In a statement on its website, the company maintained that the project’s size had been reduced by 50 percent and that the port had been designed to “avoid any onshore impacts, including impacts to wetlands … and avoid any sensitive fishery areas and any near-shore areas that could affect tourism or other uses.”

Port Ambrose could impact a major renewable energy project to be located thirteen miles off the Rockaway Peninsula. The port lies within the “proposed area of interest” for the Long Island-New York City Offshore Wind Collaborative project. 

Described as having the potential to be the largest off-shore wind project in the United States, the wind project is a public-private collaboration between the New York and Long Island Power Authorities, Con Edison, the City and State of New York, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The Maritime Administration noted in its request for comments that the wind energy project “will be acknowledged and considered in the processing of the Port Ambrose application and National Environmental Policy Act analysis.”

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Guest Wednesday, 22 October 2014