Commentary: LNG facility will have far-reaching impacts into Delaware

By Brian Moran

There is a secret hiding in plain sight just to our north that is slowly being exposed for its far-reaching impacts along the Delaware River and Bay.

In Gibbstown, New Jersey, just north of Claymont along the banks of the Delaware, a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminal with an additional dock has been proposed for construction by Delaware River Partners, a subsidiary of New Fortress Energy.

The location of Gibbstown Logistics Center will be the former DuPont Chemical Repauno Works plant. This proposal for a multi-use marine terminal was initially approved by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). 

However due to the diligence of environmental groups led by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, a re-evaluation of the plan is ongoing. Based on the limited public knowledge regarding the proposed facility and the omission of handling and exporting LNG as part of the proposal, the DRBC will be holding a new vote, likely this December.

The site is in New Jersey across the river from Chester, and the hazardous cargo will get to the facility after being transported across Pennsylvania and New Jersey using tanker trucks and rail lines. However the transporting, processing and shipping of this fuel will have environmental and safety impacts to the Delaware River, Bay, and beach communities.

The LNG will be the result of fracking gas from shale fields in Pennsylvania. The processing of the natural gas will increase pollution in the area as well as raise environmental impacts due to accidents or spills. The permit submitted by Delaware River Partners states that the facility will have the capacity to export on average 5 million gallons of LNG and natural gas liquids per day. All of this will be put on tankers and head down the Delaware past dozens of towns.

Liquid Natural Gas is comprised of 95% methane. Studies have indicated that methane is 85% worse for global warming than carbon dioxide. With the increased threat of global warming, we should be investing in cleaner energy solutions and not expanding investment in fossil fuels.

In addition, the second dock that is proposed as part of the plan will require dredging 45 additional acres of river, which will impact the health of our local estuaries, fish habitats and other wildlife.

The proposed second dock will triple the number of available ship berths. This will increase overall ship traffic along the Delaware River through the Delaware Bay by 182 new vessel trips. This additional number of trips will increase the amount of air and water pollution as well as increase the risk of an accident near residential communities and densely populated areas.

LNG is a liquefied flammable gas that is cooled to -260 degrees Fahrenheit in order to be handled. If this gas is released in a spill or accident, it is extremely dangerous. Once released into the atmosphere, it can create a vapor cloud that can move far distances downwind. The cloud can then settle in a low-lying area and be ignited by something as simple as starting a car. This gas can burn so intensely that it cannot be easily extinguished, and, within 30 seconds, could cause second-degree burns to those within one mile.

The Emergency Response Guidebook recommends evacuations within one mile of a spill, but in many recent accidents, a two-mile radius was cleared, and some studies report public safety impacts for even greater distances.  Given this distance from the middle of the Delaware River, many communities would be impacted if an accident were to occur on a ship carrying the LNG cargo towards the bay and ocean, especially coastal and beach towns within a few miles as ships pass through toward the ocean.

Due to these risks to the environment and to our overall safety, it is up to Delawareans to urge our mayors, state senators and state representatives to push Gov. Carney to vote no on the proposed permit for the export terminal, which is currently under his consideration as one of the five voting members of the DRBC.

Without this DRBC permit, the project cannot move ahead. And as we are nearing elections for our state government, we should also urge all candidates to be in opposition to the facility and vote for those that support protecting Delawareans and their fragile coastal environment.

Brian Moran is a member of Delaware Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and surfs along the southern Delaware coast. He lives in Wilmington.