EATONTOWN, N.J. (AP) — Opponents of a proposed terminal for liquefied natural gas imports off the New Jersey and New York coasts readied a final push against the project, while the company hoped to bat back what it considers fear-based and unfounded claims.
Liberty Natural Gas says a recently completed safety and environmental study by the U.S. Coast Guard proves the $600 million project to import natural gas to the New York metropolitan region during peak demand times should go forward.
But a wide array of environmentalists says the project called Port Ambrose is dangerous and unnecessary, and could hurt efforts to build a wind energy farm in the same region.
The plan, which calls for ships to tether to a docking station and pump the gas into an underwater pipe to bring it ashore, can be vetoed by the governor of either state. The United States Maritime Administration will make a final decision following this week's public hearings in New York and New Jersey, though the timing of the decision remains unclear.
The first of two New Jersey public hearings on the plan was to begin Wednesday night, following similar sessions in New York.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said liquefied natural gas is "extremely volatile and dangerous."
"These ships are almost the size of the Empire State Building," he said. "If there were a major disaster or accident, it could be catastrophic. This would allow LNG ships that are basically floating bombs off our coast."
Andrea Leshak, an attorney with the NY/NJ Baykeeper environmental group, said the gas port would interfere with proposals to locate a clean-energy wind farm in the same spot.
"The proposed Port Ambrose LNG deep water port is in direct conflict with an offshore wind farm proposed for the exact same area," she said. "To adequately protect our coastal and ocean resources from climate change and water pollution, we must choose clean energy alternatives over dirty fossil fuel infrastructure projects like Port Ambrose."
Environmentalists say it's not needed because America already has large supplies of domestically produced natural gas.
But Liberty says the project will help by bringing additional gas supplies to the New York metropolitan area during periods of peak demand, including extreme cold snaps. The company says the facility will be used solely to bring liquefied natural gasinto the country, and not to export it, as many opponents fear.
The terminal plan was first proposed in 2008, and business and labor groups support it. Liberty wants to build the port in federal waters 19 miles off Jones Beach, New York, and 29 miles off Long Branch, New Jersey. The company says the ocean terminal will result in lower home-heating prices for the metropolitan region.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a previous version of the proposal in 2011, and opponents want him to do so again. The governor, a Republican presidential candidate, has not said whether he will. But in a 2011 speech, Christie promised to closely examine such projects.
"I just don't believe that there is a need, economically, that can even come close to balancing off against the environmental risk that we run by having these types of projects running offshore of New Jersey shore," he said. "So, my opposition to this will continue for as long as I'm governor because I just don't believe it's necessary and the threat to our environment is too significant to take that risk."