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July 26, 2014
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Environmental groups target deepwater port again


REGION — Three environmental groups held a press conference to unveil what they said was more evidence that the proposed deepwater port off of New Jersey is actually intended to be used to export gas rather than import it.

Port Ambrose, as it will be known, is in the process of obtaining permits from the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard. Sean Dixon, an attorney with Clean Ocean Action (COA), said that the owner of Port Ambrose will also be the owner of a deepwater port off of the United Kingdom (UK) called Port Meridian which has already been permitted by that country.

Dixon said, “The price of natural gas in the U.S. is low, and the market trend is toward exports; the price of natural gas in the United Kingdom is high, and the market trend is toward imports.” With the price of natural gas being some three to five times as much in Europe and Asia as it is in this country, the groups contend that the real purpose of the port will be export.

The owners of the facility did not deny that they will also own the port offshore from the UK, but the CEO of the company that will own them, Liberty Natural Gas, did deny that Port Ambrose will be used for export. CEO Roger Whelan said, “There is no truth to the claim. The facilities will not have the cooling equipment that would be needed to liquefy gas for exports, and the project permits would not allow exports to occur through the facility under any circumstances. Port Ambrose is intended to meet a Long Island peak demand need in the winter months.”

If, however, Whelan were to decide to switch from importing to exporting once the permit is issued, the process would not be difficult from a permitting point of view. According to a press release from COA “under the law governing Port Ambrose, simple written permission from the federal government is all that would be needed to change an import facility license to an export license.”

The environmental groups say an export facility uses equipment and processes that have far greater environmental impacts than an import facility, but those processes and equipment are not being considered as part of the environmental impact statement, and they would not get a thorough environmental review or public comment if the owners decide to switch once the permit is granted.

Federal officials have been moving in recent months to make it possible for shale gas to be exported from the United States, and Congress now allowed for 40% of natural gas production to be shipped overseas.

Also, three deepwater ports for exports have been permitted in other states in recent months. At the press conference, Bruce Ferguson of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy said, “We are becoming the new third world, the country that is going to be devastated by fracking so that we can provide other countries with cheap fuel supplies.”

Among his concerns is that an export facility would have “upstream impacts” in places such as the Upper Delaware Valley because of the increased demand for natural gas. He said, “The pressure created by Port Ambrose could be so great, that it would open New York to fracking, which has had a moratorium in place against it for five years.”

It’s not clear that there will be smooth sailing for Port Ambrose. The project could be vetoed at any time by either the governor of New York or the governor of New Jersey. And two years ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did veto the project, which has since been updated, because Christie said it posed too many risks.