Feb 3 2015
Debate Swirls Over Port Ambrose Project Slated for Long Island Waters
Map showing the proposed location of Port Ambrose and the existing Lower New York Bay Lateral pipeline. Map does not show the Rockaway Pipeline, currently under construction, which also connects to the Lateral.
Photo credit: Port Ambrose
February 3, 2015
Debate Swirls Over Port Ambrose Project Slated for Long Island Waters

Category

Energy

Key Points:

  • Port Ambrose, a deepwater natural gas facility, is being proposed twenty miles off the coast of Long Island and approximately 22 miles from the Rockaway peninsula.
  • The port would import gas in order to relieve supply bottlenecks and reduce fuel prices for Long Island residents and businesses.
  • Opponents are concerned that the facility may preclude the development of an offshore wind farm slated for the same location.
  • There is also fear that Port Ambrose may pose a safety and environmental risk to coastal communities and aquatic habitat in New York and New Jersey.
  • Public comments on the proposal are being accepted until March 16; Governors Cuomo and Christie both have the power to veto.

 


Twenty miles off the coast of Long Island, 103 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, a battle is brewing—but it’s not just about a natural gas facility being proposed for the site.

In fact, that project has quickly become a proxy for a much larger debate—one that encompasses renewable energy, homeland security, fossil fuels, and the future of New York’s energy resources.

On the sandy, flat bottom of New York Bight, energy company Liberty Natural Gas hopes to build the Port Ambrose Deepwater Project, an underwater system that would transfer imported liquid natural gas (LNG) from ship to pipeline, and eventually to customers throughout Long Island.

Liberty claims that the $600-million project is a necessary addition to the energy infrastructure of the Northeast that would ease supply woes, lower energy costs, and generate significant federal and state tax revenue.

But a wide range of opponents are calling foul on Port Ambrose—in fact, the movement has united anti-fracking activists, Rockaway residents, and even the Republican majority leader of the State Senate. And while concerns vary, most agree that the project would deepen the region’s dependence on fossil fuels and could prevent efforts to construct a major wind farm in the same location.

Public comments on the project are being accepted through March 16th. The project may be vetoed by either Governor Cuomo or Governor Christie.

From Vessel to Buoy to Pipeline

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A LNG vessel unloads at Everett Port, off the coast of Boston. Photo credit: Bob O’Connor

While the debate around Port Ambrose is high-profile, the actual facility would be anything but; aside from the regular presence of large shipping vessels carrying liquefied natural gas to the site, all of the associated infrastructure would be fixed beneath the ocean.

According to Liberty, Port Ambrose has three components:

  1. Newly-built, 900-foot ships that would carry LNG;
  2. A newly-constructed, 26-mile subsea pipeline; and
  3. A buoy system that rests on the ocean floor when not in use.

When a ship arrives at Port Ambrose for a delivery, the 33-foot-tall undersea buoy would rise up and connect to the hull of the ship. The liquid natural gas would be gasified onboard the vessel, and then flow through through the buoy and pipeline into the existing Transco pipeline (operated by Williams Company). The entire unloading process could take as little as five days, or as many as 15.

From there, the natural gas would move into homes and power plants from Long Beach eastward. Liberty estimates that the fuel from each ship could power 1.5 million homes. This short video shows an animated version of the process:

If approved, Port Ambrose would be able to accept LNG year-round, but the company anticipates that deliveries would primarily occur during winter and summer months—meaning for half the year, the port would go unused.

Breaking a Bottleneck

Port Ambrose plans to import natural gas from Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean’s largest oil and natural gas producer. Liberty has stated that the increased supply of natural gas would relieve “bottlenecks” and “deliver a new supply of competitively priced gas directly into the downstate New York market, helping to moderate fuel prices in the area.”

But is there a bottleneck? While the supply of domestically-produced natural gas in the United States is increasing (due mostly to shale gas production), the U.S. Energy Information Administration calls New York a “pipeline-constrained” market. This means that pipeline infrastructure in the region is insufficient to meet demand for natural gas, especially during winter months. This can cause price surges on gas and electricity bills, as many power plants are now transitioning from coal to natural gas.

However, as NYER has reported previously, energy companies are rapidly filling this gap (see: Constitution Pipeline, Algonquin Pipeline, and Rockaway Pipeline). In fact the EIA noted just last week that “despite similar cold weather and high consumption [in 2014], the price increases have not been as severe” this winter—thanks in large part to increased pipeline access.

National Grid, the utility company that supplies natural gas to homes and businesses on Long Island, declined to comment on price spikes or whether Port Ambrose might mitigate them, stating only that “at the present time, we have not evaluated this particular project, and as a result, do not have an expressed opinion on this proposal.”

A Growing Coalition

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Councilman Donovan Richards speaks before a public hearing on Port Ambrose. Photo credit: Minister Erik McGregor.

Not everyone agrees that New York needs a project like Port Ambrose. Relieved of duty now that Cuomo has banned fracking, the state’s vocal anti-fracking activists, many under the umbrella of Sane Energy, have re-calibrated to challenge fossil fuel development in all forms. The No LNG Coalition, a loose group of more than 100 environmental and activist organizations, has also been coordinating the anti-Port Ambrose movement.

Elected officials—from New York and beyond—have begun issuing statements against the proposed facility, too. Many hail from New York City, coastal New Jersey, and Long Island. New York City and New Jersey will not receive any fuel from Port Ambrose, but, they argue, because of the project’s location, these localities will bear the brunt of any safety or environmental impacts first.

State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), the ranking Democratic member on the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, has called the project “unnecessary and environmentally irresponsible.”

New York City Councilman Donovan Richards recently introduced Resolution 0549, calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto the application by Liberty Natural Gas. He was joined by Council Members Margaret Chin, Corey Johnson, Rosie Mendez, and Eric Ulrich. “New York State cannot afford to accommodate the natural gas industry any further considering the immense environmental costs associated with the extraction, production and transportation of natural gas in any state,” Richards told NYER.

Surprising some, pro-fracking Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos also submitted a letter to Governor Cuomo against Port Ambrose, stating, “while the need for increased energy sources are critical to the continued success of our state and local economies, the negative impact of the Port Ambrose LNG proposal on the local community has the very real potentially [sic] of outweighing any perceived benefits.”

Other New York officials that have spoken out against the port include Assemblyman Phillip Goldfelder (D-Ozone Park), Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky (D-Lawrence), and Long Beach City Councilman Anthony Eramo.

A Symbolic Battle Between Old and New

From damage to the environment to terrorist attacks, the list of concerns varies by organization and individual. However, almost all unite over one specific frustration: New York’s continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Bringing this issue front and center is the fact that Port Ambrose is slated to be built in the exact same area proposed as a home for 200 wind turbines. The Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project, which could yield enough electricity to power 245,000 homes, is currently working its way through a multi-year federal review process.

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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. Map via Sane Energy.

Liberty maintains that the two projects are compatible, and states that Port Ambrose will only require 2.4 square miles, or 4 percent, of the 127 square miles needed for the wind project.

Opponents disagree outright with this assertion, viewing the competition over the space as a symbolic battle between renewable and fossil fuels. Kit Kennedy, Director of Energy and Transportation for the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote, “New York State and New Jersey have worked hard to recover from the devastating impacts of Superstorm Sandy…” She continued, “It would be the height of irony—and a damaging energy policy—to privilege the construction of a fossil-fuel import facility over a much-needed and long-overdue renewable offshore wind farm.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management seems to share these concerns. In comments submitted to the USCG during its review of the Port Ambrose Deepwater Port Application in 2013, BOEM stated they were “concerned that the proposal to construct a LNG Port in the same area proposed for a large wind facility could result in serious conflicts—or at the minimum, complicating factors—that may impact the overall viability of one or both projects.”

The Export Question

Opponents also suggest that Port Ambrose may eventually become an export facility, sending natural gas produced by fracking in the Marcellus Shale region to higher-priced European markets. They point to projections from the EIA that show the U.S. becoming a net exporter of natural gas by 2020.

While the EIA data refers to the U.S. as a whole and not just the Northeast, the claim is not without some precedent: Both Jordan Cove in Oregon and Dominion Cove Point in Maryland began as LNG import facilities and have since been permitted to export.

Liberty Natural Gas strongly asserts that Port Ambrose will be an import-only project that will not have the technology needed to export gas.

This point is reiterated in the DEIS: “The considerable technical, operational, and environmental differences between import and export operations for natural gas deepwater ports is such that any licensed deepwater port facility that proposed to convert from import to export operations would be required to submit a new license application…and conform to all licensing requirements and regulations in effect at such time of application.”

Roger Whelan, CEO of Liberty Gas, told NYER: “The Port Ambrose project is an import only project—no exports will take place from the facility…The project’s safe, state-of-the-art technology can only be used to regasify and deliver natural gas, not export it… Port Ambrose will never be an export facility.”

Worth the Risk?

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A woman walks on the sand at Long Beach, NY. Photo credit: Amarit Opassetthakul/Creative Commons.

Finally, there is lingering concern that Port Ambrose may pose a risk to coastal communities and aquatic habitat in New York and New Jersey. These risks, opponents say, could come in the form of habitat destruction during construction or operation, or possible terrorist attacks on the facility or LNG vessels.

“It is irresponsible to site a potential terrorism target like this near a residential and commercial hub,” reads the No LNG Coalition website, reiterating concern over intentional or accidental LNG leaks, explosions, or fires. “To put it mildly, this port presents a significant safety and security risk to the people, first responders, commerce, economy, and environment of the Mid Atlantic Ocean.” 

Daniel Mundy Jr., Rockaway resident, battalion chief for the FDNY, and Vice President of Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, told NYER, “There’s nothing in the books written anywhere that would tell you how to handle a situation should one of these types of ships become the terrorist target that’s driven towards shore.”

Liberty Natural Gas notes that as part of the approval process, Port Ambrose has undergone a Risk Assessment by the US Department of Homeland Security, which concluded that the facility poses no danger to the public.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Port Ambrose asserts that the project also constitutes no significant risk to the natural environment. Liberty maintains that they have chosen the project location and route intentionally to avoid critical habitat and fishery areas, and will employ “state of the art plow technology” to install the 22 miles of required subsea pipeline.

The No LNG Coalition contests this point vigorously, claiming that the DEIS does not adequately analyze the risks of the port to threatened and endangered species. Cassandra Ornell, staff scientist for Clean Ocean Action, said that “construction of the pipeline … would involve dredging of the sea floor, destruction of undersea habitats, smothering of bottom-dwelling species and increasing the turbidity of the water.”

The Timeline

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Community members speak at a public hearing for Port Ambrose in Queens, NY. Photo via Facebook.

Currently, the 1,800-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Port Ambrose is going through the public comment phase of the review process. Two public hearings have been held (in Eatontown, NJ and Queens, NY) and comments are now being accepted online until March 16, 2015. After a final EIS is issued this spring, Governors Cuomo and Christie will have 45 days in which to issue a veto—if no action is taken, approval would be presumed.

If you believe Long Island needs a new source of natural gas, or you’re concerned about the effects and risks of Port Ambrose, please consider submitting your comments; you can do so electronically (click Submit a Formal Comment), or via fax or mail.

You can also browse comments that have already been submitted here.

Map showing the proposed location of Port Ambrose and the existing Lower New York Bay Lateral pipeline. Map does not show the Rockaway Pipeline, currently under construction, which also connects to the Lateral.
Photo credit: Port Ambrose
  • It is hard to understand how a colleague of Sarah Crean’s could produce such a flawed report on Port Ambrose and how such incredibly flawed sources such as the NO LNG coalition and Sane Energy project could be relied on to provide the background for the piece.

    Here are some facts: Mr. Donavan who is featured in the photograph by Eric Mcgregor is not speaking at a hearing. The photograph shows him speaking at a press release that occurred beside the hearing. He is photographed with people like Eric Weltman of Food and Water Watch and Patrick Robbins of the Sane Energy project who have spent the last year and half creating and then perpetrating a myth– that this project is secretly or inevitably intended to export natural gas, not to deliver incremental supply as the application states and all the evidence and facts point to.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9p0apVDDz4 That is a video from the “press release”. Apparently the “reporter” did not attend this press release. Nor the hearing. The original hearings on this project (summer 2013) make for some interesting reading as it is there that the antifracking movement coopted the Port Ambrose hearings in order to make them a hearing on fracking not on this particular project which is what the hearings were for. It is totally false that “Relieved of duty now that Cuomo has banned fracking, the state’s vocal anti-fracking activists, many under the umbrella ofSane Energy, have re-calibrated to challenge fossil fuel development in all forms”. as the Sane Energy project and the state’s antifracking activists have been inserting themselves into both the Port Ambrose debate and many other things for a long time.

    How might it be that a colleague of Sarah Crean’s could produce an entire article on the Port Ambrose project with a pipeline that seeks to access the existing New York Lower Bay Lateral without mentioning the other project currently under construction that branches off of this very same pipe, the rockaway lateral project? This is curious as Liberty Natural Gas LLC intervened in the Rockaway docket with the FERC in February of 2013. That is TWO years ago.

    One of the more disturbing things in this article is that it appears that the politicians mentioned have influence on environmental issues whether in NY state as a whole or New York City, which it seems they don’t understand at all. The Port Ambrose project is not “a proxy for a much larger debate”. If it were a “proxy for a larger debate” I would argue that the larger issue is that reporters are currently unable to distinguish fact from fiction when reporting on any projects that involve natural gas, whether infrastructure or otherwise.

    • Karen,

      Thank you for reading the article and commenting. However, I have to ask that if you continue to participate here, you do so in a respectful way. We don’t tolerate abuse or personal attacks on our reporters (or other readers) — only healthy discussion. Your comment above is skirting the line and I hope you’ll keep that in mind for the future.

      In regards to some of your points:

      *Thank you for the photo credit correction—I have updated it to reflect that the picture was taken before the hearing, not during it.

      *In my discussions with Liberty, they indicated that gas supplied from Port Ambrose would flow from Long Beach eastward, in other words, “the opposite direction of the Rockaway Pipeline.” This is why I didn’t delve further into the Rockaway Pipeline issue, other than mentioning it in regards to increased pipeline infrastructure in New York. But I appreciate the question about whether the two are interdependent and I’ll keep an eye out for further information.

      *I relied on a variety of sources for this article—gov’t led studies, discussions with the pipeline builder, elected officials, anti-pipeline coalitions, etc. I’m interested in portraying the debate around this project but not interested in being the final arbiter—that goes for the export question or anything else. I’ll leave that job to our readers.

      *Finally, I think the discussion around Port Ambrose is interesting because it does bring up a lot of larger issues —one of which is the discussion of renewables vs. fossil fuels and how New York will continue to power itself in the future, and another of which is whether and how elected officials participate in these kind of decisions.

      Cheers,
      Emily

      • Emily–Sarah Crean could easily fill you in on what the larger issue actually is here in terms of “reporting”, certainly having to do with Port Ambrose, the Rockaway project, and it is the fraudulent nature of most of your sources. http://www.longislandpress.com/2015/01/21/nassau-pol-david-denenberg-admits-to-2m-fraud/ Fraud is an interesting thing to ponder as Legislator Denenberg featured in the photo above just admitted to it. This might relate to your question of “how elected officials participate in these kind of decisions”.

        The “umbrella of Sane Energy” basically has been both misinforming people and reporters for some time now. This is actually easy to trace online and in documents.

        http://www.longislandpress.com/2013/07/31/long-islands-offshore-lng-port-proposals-critics/ Interestingly that is a report written in July of 2013 (as in a year and half ago) and the headline is “Long Islands Offshore LNG Port Proposal’s Critics Fear Fracking Exports on the Horizon”. Compare the headline and the story written 19 months ago with your assertion (in the second sentence of this article) that “In fact, the project has quickly become a proxy for a much larger debate—one that encompasses renewable energy, homeland security, fossil fuels, and the future of New York’s energy resources.”

        You are publishing information and when challenged on the facts, the sources, your understanding of the Port Ambrose project or the issues, you are under the impression that you are being “abused” or “attacked” and/or your readers as well? Here is a legitimate question that relates to readers of the news, who we should assume are the citizenry. At the Brooklyn public library readers can pick up the free “newspaper” the Indypendent and read this: https://indypendent.org/2015/01/26/new-yorks-fracking-battles-heat What they are reading is misinformation. The source is the communication director of Sane Energy, in this case the writer is also an activist with Sane Energy. Last year readers (citizens) were treated to this: https://indypendent.org/2014/04/04/wind-waves-and-liquified-natural-gas The source was Eric Weltman of Food and Water Watch and the writer was the executive editor of the paper.

        Who are your “readers” and what do you think your obligation to them is as a “reporter”?

  • http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv/nbc-investigate-brian-williams-iraq-lie-sources-article-1.2105738

    There is an interesting story in the news these days about lying. Apparently this isn’t a good thing.

    I just read some comments by Eric Weltman of Food and Water Watch at the recent hearing on the draft EIS. Apparently he said something like Port ambrose equals fracking equals export.

    http://nyagainstfracking.org/governor-cuomo-veto-port-ambrose-now-3/

    http://www.ohio.com/blogs/drilling/ohio-utica-shale-1.291290/10-000-comments-submitted-on-east-coast-lng-export-facility-1.422877