Company Wants to Build Offshore Port for Highly Flammable Liquefied Natural Gas—What Could Go Wrong?

Environmentalists say the planned terminal off the New York coast would harm marine life and create a target for terrorists.

An LNG port off the Italian coast. (Photo: Marco Sabadin/Getty Images)

Nov 5, 2014· 2 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

A coalition of environmentalists and civic organizations is fighting to block construction of a liquefied natural gas port 19 miles off the New York coast that they contend would threaten marine life, fishing, and tourism as well as create a target for terrorism.

People from New York and New Jersey packed a community meeting last Thursday on Long Island, sponsored by the No LNG Coalition, to discuss strategy for opposing the Port Ambrose project proposed by Liberty Natural Gas. Their top priority: persuade New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to veto the project.

Many environmentalists worry about the harm to the marine ecosystem.

“During construction, there will be significant noise that may impact marine life, including marine mammals and fisheries,” Cassandra Ornell, staff scientist at Clean Ocean Action, a coalition of environmental groups from New York and New Jersey, said in an email.

Construction will also entail dredging of nearly 20 miles of seafloor to lay a pipeline connecting Port Ambrose to an existing offshore pipeline. “That would lead to disturbance and destruction of benthic [seafloor] habitat,” Ornell said.

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Once operational, the port will bring increased ship traffic to the New York Harbor area, Ornell said. “This will lead to increased risk of collision with migrating and feeding whale species,” she said. “Port Ambrose will also permanently prevent fishermen from accessing the location of the port itself as well as from an exclusion zone to be set around the port.”

There are also onshore concerns. “Liberty would need to stage chemicals” on land, she said, adding that the company’s initial application failed to include information on where storage facilities would be and their potential impact on the environment.

Environmentalists also say the port will increase demand for natural gas exports produced by fracking, the controversial process of injecting highly pressurized, chemical-laden water into underground rock formations to extract oil and gas. Liberty insists the port will only be used for imports, but opponents say it could easily be converted to export the fuel.

Then there are the safety concerns. In January, an LNG facility on the Algerian coast blew up after a pipe leaked. The explosion killed or burned more than 100 people and shattered windows six miles away.

LNG facilities are also prime targets for terrorist attack, according to national security experts, including Richard Clarke, the former adviser to presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Liberty Natural Gas did not respond to an interview request, though the Port Ambrose website provides a detailed defense of the project.

“Deepwater port projects…have been thoroughly reviewed by the Coast Guard many times and the impact to the environment and on wildlife has been found by federal and state agencies to be minimal,” according to Liberty.

Liberty asserts, moreover, that the port will be far enough offshore to avoid hurting sensitive fisheries and affecting tourism. Nor will the port increase demand for fracking. “The project’s safe, state-of-the-art technology can only be used to re-gasify and deliver natural gas, not export it,” the website says.

An offshore wind farm is planned for the area, but Liberty said the port will need just 4 percent of the 127 square miles that would be set aside for the renewable power project.

Opponents are urging people to call Governor Cuomo, sign a petition against the project, and offer comment to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.