New Jersey towns join push to block ‘bomb trains’

Critics say that transport of the fuel in tank cars — dubbed “bomb trains” — through densely populated areas exposes populations to a risk of catastrophic explosions.

A tanker ship being loaded with LNG

A tanker ship being loaded with LNG. (AP Photo, File)

This story originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

A dozen South Jersey towns and some activist groups are urging the Biden administration to deny any attempt to renew a permit that allows liquefied natural gas to be shipped by rail to a planned export terminal at Gibbstown in Gloucester County.

They are part of a coalition from New Jersey and Pennsylvania that submitted more than 3,600 petitions to the federal government last week, calling on it not to grant an extension of the permit that expires Nov. 30.

The Special Permit, issued by the Trump administration in December 2019, would allow Energy Transport Solutions, a unit of New Fortress Energy, to run up to two 100-car trains a day from a planned liquefaction plant at Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, to Gibbstown. There the fuel would be loaded onto ships at what would be New Jersey’s first LNG export terminal. The facility would represent an expansion of an existing port called the Gibbstown Logistics Center.

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Ban the ‘bomb trains’

Critics say that transport of the fuel in tank cars — dubbed “bomb trains” by opponents — through densely populated areas including Camden and Philadelphia exposes populations to a risk of catastrophic explosions and should be blocked by federal and state authorities.

They also argue that exporting LNG would stimulate the production of natural gas and lead to more leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, at a time when world leaders are trying to curb carbon emissions to slow climate change.

Jim Stewart, a New Jersey-based opponent, argued that there is no benefit to the state in allowing the project to move ahead since the LNG would be exported.

“In our presentations to local town councils we talk about the lack of benefit of this project to New Jersey,” Stewart said. “There is none. Many people are aware of the environmental threats because of the recent climate crisis events and therefore are more likely to be concerned with this project.

“We need President Biden to know by way of the resolutions that we’ve been collecting from many towns in New Jersey that anyone who’s heard about this proposal is totally against it. We hope that the president listens to us and stops the Special Permit for this project,” he said.

As of Nov. 19, 12 municipalities had passed resolutions opposing the project. They are Runnemede, Barrington, Haddon Township, Palmyra, Riverton, Merchantville, Pennsauken, Maple Shade, National Park, Burlington City, Princeton and Hazlet, said David Steinberg, another New Jersey-based opponent. They were joined by activist groups including Climate Reality Project, West Deptford Environmental Commission and Sustainable South Jersey.

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Any decision to block the transport of LNG by rail to Gibbstown would renew the prospect of hundreds of trucks per day making the nearly 200-mile trip from Wyalusing to Gibbstown, worsening air pollution and traffic congestion in South Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.

On Nov. 15, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which issued the permit, said Energy Transport Solutions had not applied to renew the permit, but activists say an application could be renewed at any time.

Reversing the rule

On Nov. 8, the Biden administration formally proposed reversing a rule, also issued by the Trump administration, allowing transportation of LNG by rail nationwide, but that change would not affect the special permit — which would need another action to be terminated.

At Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, plans are on hold to build a liquefaction plant where natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale would be supercooled for transport to Gibbstown.

Although the Gibbstown project has received permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Delaware River Basin Commission for dredging and construction of the export dock, the developer, Delaware River Partners, has yet to get several permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for construction of a rail yard at the port. The DEP said the deadline for deciding on those permits is Dec. 1.

Gov. Phil Murphy dismayed critics when he voted last December to support the Delaware River Basin Commission’s earlier approval of dredging for the project. But Murphy, who has set aggressive clean-energy goals for the state, later said he would use all available options to prevent the dock being used to export LNG.

Meanwhile, opponents led by the environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) are asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement on the export plan. If the regulator makes that requirement, it would result in a significant delay for the project during an environmental study.

“The Special Permit that permits New Fortress Energy to transport liquid fracked gas from Bradford County PA to Gibbstown New Jersey for export overseas exposes millions of people to the danger of this flammable and potentially explosive cargo,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of DRN. “This is an intolerable injustice being forced on our communities and is especially egregious in densely populated communities where most of the neighborhoods and businesses are people of color and low income.”

Neither New Fortress Energy nor its parent, Softbank, or any of its partners, responded to requests for comment on the status of the project.

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