Port Ambrose LNG
Port Ambrose was killed in December of 2015, when Governor Cuomo vetoed it, following a two-year campaign by a coalition of advocates led by Sane Energy Project and allies in NYC and Long Island, that included a successful push for the New York City Council to pass a resolution against it. Sane Energy Project was honored for our work on the campaign with a proclamation by the Long Beach City Council (at left). An archive of related media about the battle can be found here.
We are currently working to advocate for the development of the wind farm in this same location that had been put at risk by Port Ambrose. For more on that campaign, click here. To view a slide show we presented to the NY City Council outlining the advantages of offshore wind over Port Ambrose, click here.
NOTE: The below post was originally published when the fight against Port Ambrose was still active (2013-2015).
What is Port Ambrose? It’s a marine facility for off-loading LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) proposed for construction off the New York shore. Two buoys (example shown below) would be tethered to the ocean floor and connect ships to a proposed undersea pipeline that would deliver into existing gas infrastructure on Long Island. Not only would dredging for the pipeline create an environmental harm, potentially releasing a now-settled layer of toxins that had been dumped on the ocean floor decades ago; the tethers would continually scrape the ocean floor, preventing the marine ecosystem in that area from recovering.
Illustration from the builder’s website shows how the tankers are tethered to the ocean floor, connecting to a proposed pipeline that would require dredging the sea bottom. As waves cause the ship to move, these tethers continually scrape the ocean floor, preventing recovery of the local ecosystem.
What is LNG? Liquefied Natural Gas is methane that is cooled to approximately -260 degrees to liquify it; concentrating its volume by 600 times, in order to transport it in tanker ships that can be as large as the Empire State Building. Not only is the process of liquifying, transporting and re-gasifying extremely expensive—making LNG a costly fuel—it also costs our climate: LNG has a carbon footprint 40% larger than domestic shale gas (in itself a greenhouse gas with an effect on warming that is 86 times worse than carbon dioxide).
Where is Port Ambrose? To add insult to injury, the LNG facility has been proposed for the same area as a proposed wind farm—the choice between sane and insane energy couldn’t be clearer. According to Professor Mark Jacobson, in order for New York State to go 100% renewable, 40% of our power needs to come from offshore wind. Polls show that 90% of NY and Long Island residents support offshore wind, but if the LNG port goes in first, it puts the future of the wind farm in question.
The two red dots represent the position of the LNG buoys; the dotted line shows the proposed new undersea pipeline. The green triangle represents the leasable area available for a proposed wind farm. The lavender triangles represent shipping lanes–areas that are off limits for development and require extensive buffer zones.
Why is this project so risky? Although LNG is nonflammable in its liquid form, it is highly volatile during the time when it changes from liquid to gas. If a tanker were ruptured, the LNG would form a vapor cloud which would theoretically evaporate at sea. Unless an ignition source is at hand: James Fay, a professor at MIT, says, “Should one of these vapor clouds catch fire, the results could be catastrophic.” A 2004 study by the Sandia Laboratory, a division of the Department of Energy, suggests that such a fire would be hot enough to melt steel at distances of 1200 feet, or result in second-degree burns on exposed skin a mile away. “This would be bigger than any industrial fire with which we have experience,” Fay says. “There’s no way to put out that kind of fire.”
Such vulnerability makes Port Ambrose an obvious terrorist target. Al-Qaeda has specifically cited LNG as a desirable target, especially the ships. To build such a facility near New York City, the busiest harbor on the East Coast, and near the flight paths of three major airports, is reckless. The Council on Foreign Relations has said that the most feared attack would be one in which terrorists might tow an LNG tanker into a populated area (such as the Upper New York Harbor), where it could be used as a massive bomb threat.
Who’s behind Port Ambrose? Liberty Natural Gas is a paper corporation owned by nameless backers with a Cayman Islands bank account, West Face Capitol–which is concurrently developing a similar project, Port Meridian, in the UK. Both ports would be operated by Höegh, a Norwegian outfit that specializes in building LNG vessels. Liberty has filed Port Ambrose as an import facility, but, given market trends and the fact that they have European holdings, it’s possible that the port could be converted to export with the submission of a new application. Exporting would allow them to obtain higher prices in foreign markets, which would lead to more fracking in America, and higher fuel costs for domestic homeowners who use gas for heating.
Illustration demonstrates the potential connection between Port Ambrose and Port Meridian, both owned by West Face Capitol (the paper corporation that created Liberty Natural Gas) and operated by Hoegh.
What are the benefits? None that we can see. Though some temporary construction jobs may be created by Port Ambrose, only six permanent jobs would result. That’s a lot of damage and risk for six jobs. If instead, offshore wind were constructed here, the result would be a long-term investment in a Long Island port to service this new renewable energy hub, creating thousands of jobs and making New York the center of offshore wind investment dollars for decades to come. And wind farms, unlike the LNG port, become centers of renewed ecosystems after construction; their bases acting like coral reefs, spawning new marine life. This wind farm is far enough offshore that it is very unlikely to impact birds or bats, and would not be visible from shore. Not that we’d mind; we’d certainly rather see turbines than tankers.
What’s really going on here? It’s hard to say what Liberty’s true intentions are, as the company has omitted details and changed its story several times. They were chided by the reviewing agency for leaving off more than 100 required items from their application (the agency then gave them extra time to supply the answers). They’ve attempted to build an LNG facility in the NY-NJ harbor several times before, each time moving the proposal site and renaming the project. Governor Christie vetoed the project last time when it was closer to the Jersey shoreline, citing security and economic risks to the tourist and fishing trades. Liberty originally said Port Ambrose would supply gas from Trinidad and Tobago, but after investors sued over that scheme, they changed their story and said they would supply gas from the US Gulf States, where an LNG export terminal is not yet under construction. Since the port is filed as an import facility, the draft Environmental Impact Statement noted they would be required to supply foreign gas, not gas taken from domestic supplies. Liberty has since removed mention of where the gas would originate from their website.
The company claims that this project will supply gas to Long Island to cover peak winter use and reduce energy costs. They claim the project is in response to last winter’s cold snap, but this project has been under development for years. How they can claim their gas would be cheaper is a mystery, given how expensive it is to create and ship LNG, and given that domestic gas from Pennsylvania (currently selling for less than $2 a unit) already supplies Long Island. And LIPA recently killed a proposed gas power plant in Brookhaven, saying that Long Island has enough energy to cover anticipated growth for decades.