Proposed natural gas port project faces pushback

Proposed natural gas port project faces pushback
Map courtesy Liberty Natural Gas
By Bianca Fortis

The future of a controversial deepwater natural gas port that would lie off the coast of New York and New Jersey took a hit last week when Gov. Chris Christie said he will consider vetoing the project.

The proposed project is Port Ambrose, a deepwater port that would supply liquefied natural gas to the New York City metro area with the goal of stabilizing gas prices.

The project is designed to save consumers $325 million per year, according to Roger Whelan, chief executive officer of Liberty Natural Gas, the company proposing the project.

“We believe that once the facts of the Port Ambrose project become clear, this project will enjoy broad support from New Yorkers who want to pay less for cleaner energy,” Whelan said in a statement.

The company also estimates that it will result in more than 600 jobs, though most of them will be construction jobs.

On its website, Liberty Natural Gas calls itself “a portfolio company of a fund advised by West Face Capital, a Toronto, Canada-based investment management firm.”

The project requires the approval of Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Christie. While Cuomo has not publicly said whether he will support the project, Christie last week said he is skeptical of it.

If the project is approved, natural gas would be shipped from the Caribbean to the Atlantic coast. First, the gas would be extracted from natural gas fields in Trinidad and Tobago. While on the ship, the gas would then be frozen. The ship then would carry the gas to Port Ambrose, which would be located approximately 19 miles south of Jones Beach.

When it arrived, the ship would then connect with the port, anchored by cone-shaped, submerged buoys.

The natural gas would then be reheated or “re-gasified” so it could be transported into the city. The port is at the end of a 22-mile pipeline that Liberty will build. After the gas travels through that pipeline, it would be transferred into the existing pipeline network that carries gas into New York City.

Liberty Natural Gas had proposed a similar project off the New Jersey coast in 2011, but Christie vetoed it.

Liberty says the new proposal is different. According to the company, the project has been reduced in size and redesigned. While the new proposal moves it closer to New York, in the new design it is completely offshore to avoid onshore impacts such as harm to wetlands and to avoid sensitive fishery areas.

The main piece of the existing pipeline network is the Lower New York Bay Lateral, which runs parallel to the Rockaways. The company that operates it, Williams Cos., has proposed building a second pipeline, called the Transco pipeline, that would connect from the Lateral, over the Rockaways and into Brooklyn. That project has not yet been approved by the federal government.

According to both Liberty Natural Gas and Williams Cos., the projects are not related.

Environmental activist groups are advocating against both projects, citing safety concerns and environmental impacts.

Groups such as Clean Ocean Action and the Surfrider Foundation say the new Port Ambrose proposal is too similar to the one issued two years ago.

They say the project could later serve as infrastructure to export natural gas that is derived via fracking, a controversial technique by which rocks are drilled and injected with fluid so that they break and natural gas can be extracted from them.

But Liberty Natural Gas says that is untrue.

Activists also cite the devastation on the shoreline caused by Hurricane Sandy and question whether the port would be damaged during extreme weather.

But, according to Liberty Natural Gas, the port is designed to withstand unusually hazardous weather. The ship can disconnect from Port Ambrose in less than 15 minutes and sail away from the storm.

The comment period for the project ended two weeks ago. It drew about 10,000 comments, most of which were against the project, according to Clean Ocean Action.

Before the review process is completed, there will be public hearings, and federal and state agency environmental and safety reviews, according to Whelan’s statement.

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

Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at bfortis@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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