Governor Cuomo, Veto Port Ambrose Now!

Curious what Governor Cuomo will do about fracking? Watch how he handles Port Ambrose.

Governor Cuomo may be able to postpone a decision about fracking until after he’s safely re-elected, but sometime in the next couple of months he may be forced to take a stand on Port Ambrose — the massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) port to be constructed off Long Island. We must send a message to Cuomo, who has the authority to stop this proposal: Veto Port Ambrose now!

If built, Port Ambrose will be able to handle 400 million cubic feet of gas a day. That’s around three percent of the total production from the Marcellus Shale. If it’s used for exports –we’re almost certain it will be — the port will provide gas companies with easy access to lucrative foreign markets — and a powerful incentive to break the stalemate in New York and open the state to fracking.

Offshore Bait-and-Switch?

The port’s corporate sponsor, Liberty Natural Gas LLC, insists that Port Ambrose will be used only to import gas, that it will never be used to export Marcellus Shale gas to Europe. So why don’t we believe them?

For starters, there’s Liberty NG itself. It’s a self-described “portfolio company of a… Toronto, Canada, based investment management firm.” It has no known assets and no track record. Not exactly the kind of transparent ownership structure and established reputation you can take to the bank—even if your bank is in the Cayman Islands.

Then there’s the fact that Liberty has one other project in the works, an LNG port just like Port Ambrose off the coast of England. As Clean Ocean Action has pointed out, this second port would be perfectly positioned to receive fracked gas shipped from Port Ambrose.

But the main reason to conclude that Port Ambrose will be used for exports is purely economic. Imported natural gas has been priced out of the domestic market by cheap shale gas. In November, FERC reported that the “landed price” for LNG was $3.26 in Cove Point, Maryland. At the same time it was $10.66 in the U.K. and $15.65 in Japan. No gas producer in their right mind will ship gas to the U.S. when it can be sold for three or four times as much in other markets. Neither of the two existing LNG ports on the East Coast (both in Boston Harbor) have been able to import any gas since 2010.

A Conspiracy Theory?

So if Liberty really wants to build an LNG export terminal, why didn’t it simply apply for an export license? The answer, I think, is obvious—it didn’t want to attract the attention of New York’s loud and highly effective anti-fracking movement. Rather it hoped to quietly acquire an import license, spend three or four hundred million dollars building the port, and then say it needs an export license because it can’t make money on imports.

We’ve already seen this same scenario play out in Oregon, where a company was seeking permission to build an LNG “import” terminal called Jordan Cove. Initially, it insisted the terminal could never be used for exports. Project Manager Bob Braddock said, “It’s not like someone can just flip a switch. The technical issues are huge.” He dismissed concerns that the terminal would end up exporting gas as “a conspiracy theory concocted by environmentalists.”

Of course that was before the project won federal approval. Once Jordan Cove was approved, Braddock flipped the switch and sought an export license, saying, “There is currently no need for imports into North America. We accept that. If anything makes sense, it’s export.”

An Accelerated Timeline and Little Opportunity for Public Participation

Because Port Ambrose will connect to an existing offshore pipeline, the project doesn’t require FERC approval, and because it is a deepwater port, the Maritime Administration must process the license application within 240 days. Preliminary public hearings, the release of the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the public comment period on the EIS, and the publication of the final EIS must all be completed within that compressed timeframe. There will be little opportunity for the public to carefully consider the impacts of the project.

The license application for Port Ambrose was filed in June, 2013, and the draft EIS could be released at any time. It’s liable to be hundreds of pages long, and highly technical, but the comment period is bound to be attenuated and inadequate. We’ve made it clear to MarAd that exporting gas is a foreseeable use for Port Ambrose and therefore the “upstream impacts” associated with fracking should be considered in the EIS, but MarAd has explicitly rejected this assertion; we can expect an EIS that focuses only on coastal and maritime impacts.

There are many reasons, apart from fracking, to reject Port Ambrose, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie succinctly enumerated them when he vetoed plans for a similar LNG port off the Jersey shore in 2011, saying it would “pose unacceptable risks to the State ‘s residents, natural resources, economy, and security.” He went on to point out that the port will contaminate the air and water, disrupt important fishing grounds, and provide an inviting target for terrorists. (Al Qaeda is known to have its eyes on LNG—imagine a vessel the length of three football fields, loaded with explosive gas, hijacked and heading into New York harbor.) Port Ambrose has all the problems associated with the earlier port proposal vetoed by Christie, plus a new one—it’s sited in the middle of a proposed offshore wind farm.

All Eyes on Cuomo

Although Port Ambrose would be built just two miles off Long Beach, NY, local officials have no say in the matter. Neither does the Department of Environmental Conservation or the state legislature. But as governor of an “adjacent state,” Andrew Cuomo has the authority to unilaterally kill it, as does New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  Let’s make sure he does the right thing and vetoes Port Ambrose.

Take action to stop Port Ambrose.

Learn more about Port Ambrose.

Bruce Ferguson is a member of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy.

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