Environmentalists demand halt to natural gas exports

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 4/28/21

REGION — Local environmental groups have joined activists throughout the country and the world calling on the Biden Administration to pump the brakes on the natural gas industry. More than 200 …

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Environmentalists demand halt to natural gas exports

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REGION — Local environmental groups have joined activists throughout the country and the world calling on the Biden Administration to pump the brakes on the natural gas industry. More than 200 groups in total have penned a letter to President Biden requesting he use his executive powers to halt the transportation and exportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG), decarbonize the energy industry and rebuild it using green energies, and to roll back Trump-era policies that took a more lenient regulatory approach to the industry and allowed LNG to be transported by rail.

To create LNG, companies cool natural gas at -260 degrees Fahrenheit, reducing its volume by 1/600th of its original size and allowing for its transportation to other markets and countries that cannot be reached by pipeline. There are currently more than 100 LNG facilities operating in the U.S., six export terminals in operation, at least 22 additional terminals in development and more undergoing expansion.

Residents may recall that the topic of LNG export terminals was a point of contention in the Delaware River Basin last year, when the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) considered granting approval for one such terminal in Gibbstown, NJ just across the river from Philadelphia. Despite vehement opposition from activists in all four states through which the river runs, the commission ultimately granted its approval for construction.

In addition to general concerns about the natural gas industry and its exacerbation of the climate crisis, activists are keenly concerned about natural gas in this cooled liquid state. In the letter to Biden, they say that LNG facilities pose public health risks to those living in the vicinity and that the transportation of LNG is highly dangerous.

“Public health is negatively impacted by air pollution from LNG processing, including... hazardous air pollutants such as benzene and mercury compounds, volatile organic compounds, ammonia, sulfuric acid, sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides. Those closest to the emission source receive the most harm from most pollutants. Furthermore, the enormous footprint of these emissions can cause damage to human health for up to 159 miles,” the letter reads. “LNG is classified as a hazardous material. When spilled, it becomes flammable and potentially explosive, posing significant and unmitigable danger to public safety and health and to the environment. This threat to public safety accompanies every step of LNG’s supply chain including processing, handling, transloading, storage and transporting.”

The letter also notes that communities of color and low-income communities comprise 38 percent of the population living within a three-mile radius of proposed LNG facilities, where the worst effects of resultant air pollution would be felt.

Representatives of regional environmental groups, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the Catskill Mountainkeeper, took part in a virtual press conference this month to discuss the topic further with speakers from all three coasts where activists are opposing LNG exportation. Adrian Rivera of Philly Boricuas spoke for the East Coast, Juan Mancias of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas spoke for the Gulf Coast—where four of the six operational export terminals are located—and Robyn Janssen of Rogue Riverkeeper represented the West Coast.

“I’m tired; we’re all really tired,” Janssen said. “Most of the West Coast went up in flames last summer due to climate-driven wildfires. Do we really have to continue fighting these projects whose impact on the climate is literally burning our friends’ and neighbors’ homes down?”

Wes Gillingham from the Mountainkeeper spoke about the safety risks posed by LNG.

“Twenty-two rail cars [of LNG] would equal the same amount of explosive destruction as an atom bomb, so we’re talking about serious volatility,” Gillingham said. “You add that to the fact that most of the rail lines, at least the LNG facility we’re fighting on the Delaware River, the LNG would be going through the major population centers in the area... The rail companies actually route the trains through more populated areas because those tracks are inspected more often, so it’s an accident we do not want to experience.”

Tracy Carluccio of the Riverkeeper Network said that they’re calling for executive action because it has the potential to bring about more immediate change than going through legislative channels.

“Legislation would probably have to be pretty piecemeal addressing the deregulation moves that the Trump Administration put in place... This is not something that can take a year or two to move through a legislative process,” she said. “I think the urgent action that’s needed could be carried out an executive order by President Biden to put a stop to LNG exports until all of the issues that we’re bringing up here today are addressed.”

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