Hundreds Protest Gas Export Off NJ/NY Coast

| Resist!

State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) discusses her opposition to a proposed liquefied natural gas facility off the coast of New Jersey and New York. Hundreds of people turned out at a public hearing to oppose the project. (MaryAnn Spoto | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

EATONTOWN —Hundreds of people turned up the heat Thursday night on a proposed liquefied natural gas facility off the coast of New Jersey as they voiced their objections to a project they said would jeopardize security to the area while benefiting an industry that doesn’t need to import gas to the U.S.

Some of the state’s top lawmakers from both political parties expressed their frustration at having to revisit the topic barely three years after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar proposal in 2011.

The effects of the project on the state’s security, environment, fishing industry and the country’s continued reliance on fossil fuels dominated the reasons the majority of speakers said don’t want a pipeline pumping liquefied natural gas from boats in the New York/New Jersey Harbor 18 miles from Long Island and 28 miles from Long Branch.

Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-Monmouth) said the project, known as the Port Ambrose Deep Water Port, brings no benefit to New Jersey because it won’t deliver gas to the Garden State and it won’t bring jobs to the unemployed.

“This is hardly the job creator that the proponents of the project claim,” Casagrande said to a burst of applause at the Sheraton Hotel in Eatontown.

Because the United States has its own supply of natural gas, it doesn’t need an import facility, she said.

In a letter read by a staff member, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.), said the country should instead invest in renewable energy resources, such as wind power. With the state still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, the state can’t risk a natural gas spill off its coast, he said.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) said she doesn’t trust that Liberty Natural Gas, the company seeking to build Port Ambrose, wouldn’t try to become an export facility.

“New Jersey stands steadfast in its opposition to the Port Ambrose liquefied natural gas facility,” Beck said, noting it will bring no jobs, no revenue and no new energy source to New Jersey.

Asbury Park Councilman Joe Woerner said approval of the application would bring short-term economic gain to a private corporation at the expense of a clean coastal environment.

“I’m astonished why we’re back here,” Woerner said.

More than a dozen environmental groups held a press conference before the hearing to voice their objections to the proposal, which they insist is unnecessary because of a glut of natural gas already in the area.

Many of the groups expressed skepticism about the intent of the application for the license. They say Liberty Natural Gas is seeking to build an import facility but its true goal is to convert it to an export facility. They said it would be easier for Liberty to get approvals to convert the facility to export natural gas than it would for the company to get a permit to build an export operation from the start.

Already well versed in the criticisms of the proposal, representatives from the U.S. Maritime Administration, which has the final say over the application, said before the start of the public comment that any import facility seeking to convert to export operations would have to seek a new permit.

Norris McDonald, president of the Center for Environment, Commerce & Energy, said the proposed facility would not have the extreme impact that environmental groups claim.

He said the project would help with diversity of the country’s energy supply.

If states kill fracking projects and natural gas imports, it will drive up the price of natural gas, he said.

“They’re opposing everything,” McDonald said. “If they do that, they’re going to have to pay to the piper later,” he said.

Mike Curry, representing Local 5 of the International Union of Operating Engineers’ Marine Division, said the project would help with energy supplies in the country.

“I don’t see a down side to it,” Curry said. “This project would just augment the supply and hopefully put some people to work.”

Jim Walsh, mid-Atlantic director for Food & Water Watch, said the potential environmental hazards and the possibility of disastrous event involving the pipeline shouldn’t be ignored or downplayed.

“This industry is causing us to sacrifice major parts of our country,” Walsh said, referring to fracking for natural gas. “Now they’re asking us to sacrifice our coast.”

The major push is on exporting natural gas, not importing it, Walsh said.

“To ignore that reality is to bury your heads in the sand,” he said.

Instead, the federal government should invest in public roads and the drinking water infrastructure.

Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, said the pipeline has no New Jersey connection. She said the tankers would be docked in New York waters and would unload their liquefied natural gas into a pipeline headed for Long Island. None of the natural gas would be headed to New Jersey, she said.

Tom Fagan, a representative of CWA local 1075, which represents county and municipal workers along the shore, said he disagrees with Liberty’s claim that Port Ambrose would bring 800 jobs to the area. The company, he said, was looking at Rhode Island or Long Island as the site for its land-based facility.

“The risk for the jobs just isn’t there,” he said. Jobs instead should be in improving the state’s roads and infrastructure and upgrading Port Newark, he said.

Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long, whose home was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, said destructive storms are becoming more common.

“The notion of a 1- in 100-year storm has all but been erased,” Long said. “Please consider the longterm effects of what is at best a short- to mid-term project.”

Jim Lovgren, a third-generation fisherman from Point Pleasant Beach, said that although the siting of the pipeline in the 2011 proposal was moved by 8 miles in the new proposal, it’s still in fishing grounds

“It’s a sham. Liberty is a sham,” Lovgren said.