A Plea to Protect Long Island’s Natural Environment Before It’s Too Late

We’ve written about the funding and staffing woes of the state’s lead environmental agency many times. To date, despite pleas from watchdog groups and even the state Comptroller, the Cuomo administration has insisted that the Department of Environmental Conservation can do more with less.

New York State’s environmental challenges are growing more, not less, complicated. Just think about sea level rise and what it will mean for New York’s coastal areas by the end of this century.

And then there is the loss of the state’s biodiversity. Last year, according to a recent editorial by Newsday, “the state said 185 local [Long Island] species were declining so quickly they required action within 10 years to save them. They include species with great financial and nutritive value, such as oysters, winter flounder, scallops and hard clams.”

Newsday’s editorial board has called on the Governor to reconsider his position on funding for the DEC as we head toward state budget negotiations. Here’s the editorial from November 28th in full.

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Good move, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. You’ve named a capable person to head the state’s environmental agency. Basil Seggos is widely respected for his commitment and his abilities.

Now you also must fund the Department of Environmental Conservation properly so Seggos can do his job. If you want a legacy as a green governor, it’s time to do more.

Right now, the DEC has no chance to meet its full mission. Funding and personnel are about 25 percent lower than eight years ago. Inspections and enforcement actions are way down. Funding for the Environmental Protection Fund — which supports efforts to protect clean water, preserve farmland, and recycle — is more than $75 million off from its $255 million high in 2008-09. For nearly 20 years, the state hasn’t had an environmental bond act to help pay for things like cleaning up waterways, improving sewage treatment plants, and buying open space.

At the same time, Long Island and the state face increasing environmental threats — from nitrogen in our waters to pine beetles in our forests, from illegal dumping to sea level rise. These are urgent and longtime threats to health and public safety, and the DEC needs the resources to combat them. This must be a priority when crafting budgets.

Seggos gets Long Island’s issues. His smartly drawn priorities, detailed in an interview, include:

Climate change — he should work toward developing a state climate action plan to improve our ability to withstand stronger storms and rising sea levels;

Water quality — he should continue to support the state/local effort to determine how much nitrogen is in our waters and set targets for reductions;

Wastewater treatment — he must work with Nassau County on an ocean outfall pipe AND a nitrogen removal system for the Bay Park plant;

The southern pine beetle — those who are fighting a valiant but losing battle need reinforcements; and

Fisheries — his plan to rebuild trust with the fishing industry must be balanced with the need to protect stocks.

The litany of Long Island problems is much longer. Last year, for example, the state said 185 local species were declining so quickly they required action within 10 years to save them. They include species with great financial and nutritive value, such as oysters, winter flounder, scallops and hard clams. The DEC said its lack of staffing and resources means little can be done.

Other issues include:

  • Sand mines must be more tightly regulated. They can threaten groundwater and shouldn’t end up as garbage dumps, like ones in Coram and Kings Park. State legislation is needed to eliminate exemption loopholes, engineering staff should oversee mines, and Long Island requires more than one inspector.
  • A system to track construction and demolition debris should be created by requiring vehicle logs that would detail loads and destinations, in the wake of the illegal dumping scandal in Islip.
  • Brookhaven’s landfill is slated to close in 10 years; developing a long-term solid waste management plan should begin now.
  • A plan to more tightly regulate pesticide use, including a ban on the most toxic pesticides, is long overdue.

 

There is a lack of staff to manage the 20,000 acres of DEC land on Long Island; as a result homeowners are illegally expanding backyards and building sheds and decks. There also should be more planned burns in the Pine Barrens to reduce the risk of severe wildfires that threaten homes and lives.

Taken together, the problems seem overwhelming. Seggos shows the passion and smarts required to attack them. But he also needs the tools.

That’s up to Cuomo and the State Legislature. Give the DEC the money it needs. Because if it falls short in its many battles, the cost we will pay will not be measured in dollars.

 

Cuomo Vetoes Port Ambrose Gas Facility: “The Reward Was Not Worth The Risk”

After years of opposition from environmental groups, citizens, and local officials, Governor Cuomo announced today that he has officially vetoed the Port Ambrose Liquefied Natural Gas project. The facility was proposed by Liberty Natural Gas off the shores of New York and New Jersey.

“The reward was not worth the risk and we’re going to veto the Port Ambrose plan,” Cuomo said during an event at the Long Beach Ice Arena Thursday.

With his veto, the proposed facility cannot move forward.

A rendering of the Port Ambrose project.
A rendering of the Port Ambrose project. Photo credit: Port Ambrose

The Governor cited a number of concerns that motivated his decision, but seemed primarily concerned with security, both from terrorism threats and natural disasters. Cuomo also noted that the proposed site for the facility overlapped with the Long Island-New York City Offshore Wind Project as well as important commercial fishing grounds.

Liberty Natural Gas has not yet published a response.

View the full text of the Governor’s letter to the U.S. Maritime Administration here.


From the Governor’s office:

Governor Cuomo Vetoes Port Ambrose Liquefied Natural Gas Project

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today vetoed the Port Ambrose Liquefied Natural Gas Deepwater Port, citing security and economic concerns along with the potential to negatively impact off-shore wind development. The project, which had been proposed by Liberty Natural Gas, LLC, required approval from both Governor Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Christie under the federal Deepwater Port Act. Governor Cuomo detailed his full position in a letter sent today to the U.S. Maritime Administration.

“My administration carefully reviewed this project from all angles, and we have determined that the security and economic risks far outweigh any potential benefits,” said Governor Cuomo. “Superstorm Sandy taught us how quickly things can go from bad to worse when major infrastructure fails – and the potential for disaster with this project during extreme weather or amid other security risks is simply unacceptable. Port Ambrose would also hinder the local maritime economy in a way that negatively impacts businesses throughout Long Island, and that is simply unacceptable. This is a common-sense decision, because vetoing this project is in the best interests of New Yorkers.”

The Deepwater Port Act requires approval from the governor of each adjacent coastal state before a deepwater port license is issued. For the Port Ambrose project, both New York and New Jersey are adjacent coastal states.

The Governor’s review found that the project posed inherent and unanswered security risks to the region. The potential for catastrophic impacts during extreme weather events was also found to be unacceptable. Additionally, the project posed significant disruptions to commercial and recreational maritime activities, and would also have interfered with a critical off-shore wind power project proposed by the New York Power Authority.

Fate of Port Ambrose Gas Facility Will Be Decided by Cuomo and Christie

The final decision on Port Ambrose, a natural gas facility slated for ocean waters off the coast of Long Island, has now moved to the desks of Governors Christie and Cuomo.

By December 21, the two governors must decide if they will approve, veto, or modify the project. If either governor vetoes, the project will not proceed; if neither acts, it will move forward as designed.

The Port Ambrose facility, which consists of a series of pipelines and underwater buoys, is sited roughly 18 miles south of Long Island and 28 miles east of New Jersey. If built, large ships carrying liquified natural gas would dock at the station where the product would be re-gasified and shipped, via underwater pipeline, to the New York mainland.

Serious Questions

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stand side by side during a press conference in New York.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stand side by side during a press conference in New York. Photo credit: Andrew Burton/Getty

Despite intense public interest surrounding the project, the governors have remained surprisingly silent on their decision.

In October, Cuomo spoke briefly to a reporter from Capital New York about Port Ambrose; it was the first time he had spoken at any length about it.

“The question now goes to the states, New Jersey and New York,” Cuomo said. “There are a lot of serious questions that would have to be answered before approval certainly, because it does bring up a number of obvious security and safety issues.”

Governor Christie has been even more tightlipped, leaving only his past actions from which to draw conclusions.

In 2011, Christie opposed an alternate deepwater natural gas port sited 16 miles off the coast of Asbury Park.

That same year, Christie told an environmental group that he did not believe there was an economic need for liquified natural gas facilities that could come close to balancing environmental risks.

“My opposition to this will continue for as long as I’m governor,” he said.

An Ongoing Battle

Hundreds packed the Long Beach Hotel for a hearing on November 2. Photo via Erik McGregor.
Hundreds packed the Long Beach Hotel for a hearing on November 2. Photo via Erik McGregor.

Opponents of the project say it poses significant security and environmental threats to the region. It is also sited for the same location as the proposed Long Island-New York City Offshore Wind Project.

Opinions differ over exactly how much the port would encroach on the wind farm area. According to a March, 2015 letter by the New York Power Authority, the total wind farm area lost to Port Ambrose would be “a minimum of 13 percent and could be as much 20 percent.”

Supporters of the Port Ambrose project say it will provide needed natural gas supply to areas that have experienced shortages and price volatility.

Federal regulators released the final Environmental Impact Statement in October of this year, and four days of public hearings followed in early November. Written comments from the public will be accepted through November 30.

Taking a Moment to Contemplate the Great Prairie of Long Island

Native prairie grassland once covered 40,000 acres of central Nassau County on Long Island. The grassland, home to scores of plant, bird and butterfly species, has been described as “the only true prairie east of the Allegheny Mountains.”

Due to commercial development, only a few acres of Long Island’s prairie—known as the Hempstead Plains—remain today.

This is a soothing, late summer glimpse of what the prairie might have looked like:

[KGVID width=”568″ height=”320″]https://www.nyenvironmentreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/IMG_06541.mov[/KGVID]

You can visit this beautiful meadow, modeled on the Hempstead Plains, at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. The meadow is in the Garden’s recently expanded Native Flora Garden.

Brooklyn, as is sometimes forgotten, is part of Long Island.

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Native wildflowers at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Photo: Sarah Crean

Visit the Long Island Prairie

wildflowers bbg 2Even better, you can visit an existing section of the Hempstead Plains on the campus of Nassau Community College. There you can explore some of the last remnants of the Long Island prairie, which apparently developed south of a terminal moraine left behind by the last Ice Age.

The site is “highly ecologically and historically significant,” says the non-profit that is restoring the area.

“The Hempstead Plains supports populations of federally endangered and globally rare plants among its 250 different kinds of vegetation as well as several plant species that are now considered rare in New York State.

It represents one of the most rapidly vanishing habitats in the world, along with scores of birds, butterflies, and other animals that are vanishing with it.”

-Friends of Hempstead Plains

Check out this beautiful slide show of the Hempstead Plains.

Massive Fish, Turtle Die-Offs Point to Water Quality Crisis on Long Island

Beach season isn’t off to a great start for parts of Long Island. Last weekend, thousands of dead bunker fish washed up on the shores of Long Island’s Peconic Bay, just two weeks after hundreds of dead diamondback turtles were found nearby.

Experts, including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, say the culprit in both mass die-offs is a recent red tide—large algal blooms fueled by an excessive supply of nitrogen.

The turtles are believed to have eaten shellfish contaminated by an algae-produced neurotoxin; the fish appear to have suffocated because algal blooms severely reduce oxygen in the water.

Now, community members and environmental groups are renewing their call for a comprehensive, state-level plan to address the region’s water quality issues, once and for all.

As Far As The Eye Can See

Most of the fish kills have been found on public and private beaches in towns surrounding Flanders Bay, but have been reported as far east as Cutchogue and Southold.

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Dead bunker fish mark the high tide line. Photo credit: Peter Blasl via RiverheadLocal.

Residents in Riverhead described the high tide line last weekend as “marked by piles of dead fish, stretching out as far as the eye can see.”

“This may be the biggest fish kill I’ve ever seen and I’ve been working for more than 20 years,” Christopher Gobler, a biologist at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, told the Riverhead News Review.

Gobler said levels of the algae Prorocentrum—responsible for the red tide—are some of the highest researchers have seen in the region.

During the day, these algae produce oxygen through photosynthesis, but at night, photosynthesis stops. Algae then use up oxygen right along with other organisms. The lowest dissolved oxygen is often found early in the morning, before photosynthesis begins.

When schools of bunker swim into this “dead zone,” they suffocate and die.

Dissolved oxygen levels have dropped to zero for extended periods of time in this area, noted Gobler.

Bunker fish kills in this area are not uncommon this time of year. Bluefish, a predator fish, will chase schools of bunker up the Peconic River, where they become trapped. The volume of fish combined with low tidal flushing in these areas drives oxygen levels down and the fish die.

However, Gobler said the current die-off is the largest he’s ever seen—and likely the largest in decades.

A Dangerous Neurotoxin

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A dead diamondback turtle and dead bunker washed up on the beach at Simmons Point in South Jamesport, May 29. Photo credit: Peter Blasl via RiverheadLocal

Another type of algae also present in the Peconic, Alexandrium, produces saxitoxin, a “dangerous neurotoxin” that can damage or impair nerve tissue. Shellfish filter the toxic algae cells from the water. When other creatures—like turtles—consume the oysters, they can become paralyzed by the toxin and drown.

Gobler said saxitoxin is normally detected in the region’s waters, but he has never seen levels this high and never seen it cause such a wildlife die-off.

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Nick Mancuso, a state wildlife technician, collects bodies of dead turtles from Iron Point in Flanders. Photo credit: Peter Blasl via RiverheadLocal.

“We’re seeing bodies washing up in perfect condition. This has never happened before. It’s an alarming thing,” Karen Testa, executive director of Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, told the AP.

Testa also said the poisoned turtles may have been just coming out of hibernation when they ate the toxic shellfish.

“What that does is it paralyzes them and they would just drown. It’s a horrible death, “she said. “They get their first meal and its poison. It’s horrible.”

Experts say this die-off could have serious and long-term consequences to Long Island’s turtle population. “We’ve seen very few instances like this before,” said Dr. Russell Burke, the chairman of the biology department at Hofstra University, told CBS New York. “It can take decades to recover.”

Shortly before the turtles were found, the DEC issued an emergency ban on shellfish harvesting in Meetinghouse Creek, Terry Creek, both tributaries of Flanders Bay, and James Creek, a tributary of Great Peconic Bay due to the presence of marine biotoxins.

Saxitoxin can also cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans, which typically results in numbness and tightening in the face and a loss of coordination. In most cases, patients make a full recovery in a few days, but rare cases have resulted in death.

The Longer We Wait, the Worse it Will Get

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Traditional septic systems don’t treat for nitrogen. Instead, nitrogen seeps into groundwater and eventually works its way into coves and harbors, where it can become pollution.

Most of Long Island’s water quality issues—including algae blooms—are a direct result of excess nitrogen. Nitrogen enters waterways from septic/cesspool systems, and waste water treatment plants, as well as run-off from yards and agricultural lands.

As the nutrient leeches into the sandy soil and ultimately the surrounding waters, it acts as an incredible source of plant food, triggering massive algal blooms in the Great South Bay, the Peconic Bay, Moriches Bay, and many other bays, ponds, harbors, and fresh water lakes. These blooms reduce oxygen levels, kill eelgrass and other wildlife, and produce harmful toxins.

“Such occurrences will become the norm if we don’t reduce 30-50 percent of the nitrogen going into the Peconic Estuary,” Kevin McDonald of The Nature Conservancy on Long Island, said in a statement. “While some strides have been made to reduce nitrogen in our waters, the longer we wait to fix our water quality problems, the worse it will get, the longer it will take and the more expensive it will be.”

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Cat drinking from faucet. Photo credit: Dave Dugdale / Creative Commons

Nitrogen pollution is also a threat to drinking water. All of Long Island’s drinking water, whether from public or private wells, comes from three underground aquifers: the Upper Glacial, the Magothy, and the Lloyd.

Nitrogen levels in these aquifers are increasing; groundwater with concentrations above 10mg/liter is toxic to humans.

New York State’s 2015-16 budget includes $5 million for a plan to combat nitrogen pollution on Long Island. According to The Nature Conservancy, the funding will be used to “develop an Island-wide plan to identify a thoughtful path forward and make sure that state, county and local water resource planning efforts are coordinated and actively addressing immediate coastal resilience and water quality challenges.”

Is the Largest Offshore Wind Farm in the U.S. Coming to New York City and Long Island?

Described as what could be the largest offshore wind farm in the United States, the Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project is working its way through a multi-year federal review process. If everything goes as planned, almost 200 3.6-megawatt wind turbines will eventually be constructed 13 miles off the Rockaway Peninsula.

Now’s your chance to see what the project could actually look like.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is hosting four public open houses (in Brooklyn, Long Island and New Jersey) to share the results of a recently completed “visualization” study. They are asking for the public’s input on “our renewable energy planning efforts in Federal waters on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore New York.”

The Long Island – New York City wind farm could yield as much as 700 MW of energy—enough electricity to power an estimated 245,000 homes. The project is a collaborative effort between Con Edison, the Long Island Power Authority, and the New York Power Authority.

Could the New York project become one of the world’s largest wind farms?

The New York project has the potential to rival the London Array, currently the world’s largest operational offshore wind farm, which opened in July 2013. Located 13 miles off the Kent coast in the outer Thames Estuary, the Array’s 175 turbines can generate enough energy to power nearly half a million UK homes, reducing CO2 emissions by more than 900,000 tons annually.

Now capable of producing 630MW of electricity, the London Array was supposed to be expanded by another 370MW. Phase 2 of the project has stalled due to environmental, logistical and financial issues, states the project’s website.

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The London Array under construction. Photo credit: Go Green

What’s In Store for New York?

The Long Island – New York City wind project is intended to help New York State reach its goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, relative to 1990 levels.

Wind power is steadily becoming more commercially viable. Tracey Moriarty, a BOEM spokeswoman, told NYER earlier this year that other potential wind farm developers have expressed interest in the site off the Rockaways.

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Area off the Rockaway coast under federal review as a possible site for the installation of up to 194 wind turbines. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Developers of the Long Island – New York City project plan to construct 194 wind turbines off the coast. What sorts of impacts could such a project have?

One possible impact is visual. During the BOEM open houses in June, panoramic photographs and short videos will be shown that simulate the New York wind power project under various weather conditions and times of day and night. The simulations were generated from a series of key observation points, says BOEM.

Public feedback regarding how the wind farm could impact the viewshed for coastal areas of New York and New Jersey will be used by BOEM as it finalizes the exact area of the ocean to be developed.

The public can stop in at any time during the BOEM open houses:

Monday, June 8 from 6 – 8 pm
Floyd Bennett Field
50 Aviation Road
Brooklyn, NY 11234

Tuesday, June 9 from 6 – 8 pm
Watch Hill Ferry Terminal
150 West Avenue
Patchogue, NY 11772

Wednesday, June 10 from 6 – 8 pm
Sandy Hook Chapel
35 Hartshorne Drive
Highlands, NJ 07732

Thursday, June 11 from 6 – 8 pm
Freeport Recreation Center
130 East Merrick Road
Freeport, NY 11520

The Long Island – New York City wind project: a four-step process.

The New York wind farm is at the beginning of a lengthy public review process.

First, BOEM must conduct a preliminary environmental review of the potential impacts of a wind farm in the proposed ocean site. The public will be able to submit comments as part of the review.

Second, a lease to develop the wind farm in federal waters is issued to the winner of a competitive auction process.

Third, a site assessment plan is developed, which involves the collection of more information (e.g., wind speed data, biological data) about the area proposed for development.

And finally, the wind farm’s developer submits a construction and operations plan. BOEM must then carry out a full environmental review of the project.

Port Ambrose Decision Delayed, Feds “Stop the Clock”

The application for Port Ambrose, a deepwater port and gas pipeline off the coast of Long Island, has been delayed by federal agencies.

In a letter posted March 24, the Coast Guard and the federal Maritime Administration “stopped the clock” in evaluating the plan, noting that they lacked the information necessary to complete development of the final Environmental Impact Statement.

The agencies cited four reasons for their delay:

  1. During the comment period, more than 10,000 public comments were received; more time is required to review and respond to this input.
  2. This month, the Army Corps of Engineers began requiring pipelines to be buried 15 feet deep instead of 7 feet, a new rule that will have to be analyzed for the final environmental impact report.
  3. The Environmental Protection Agency must still review the project’s conformity to the Clean Air Act.
  4. “Financial responsibility data” from Liberty Natural Gas is due to on March 30th, and regulators would like time to analyze this information.

The letter did not specify how long the delay could last. This is the second timeline suspension since Liberty’s proposal was published in June 2013.

Bi-Partisan Opposition

The Port Ambrose project would pump liquified natural gas from 900-foot ships through 26-miles of sub-ocean pipeline into the existing natural gas system to serve Long Island.

The port has faced massive public and governmental opposition, especially in recent months. In New York, 52 bi-partisan legislators signed a letter against the proposed plan, urging a veto. In New Jersey, a resolution against the facility has been introduced in both the Senate and Assembly.

On April 1, the New York City Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection and the Committee on Waterfronts will hold a hearing on Resolution #549, which calls on Governor Cuomo to veto Port Ambrose. Under federal law, a veto from either Cuomo or Christie will kill the plan.

Statements Released

Clean Ocean Action, a broad-based coalition of 125 groups, has been a leader in the fight against Port Ambrose. Upon learning of the federal delay, Executive Director Cindy Zipf released the following statement:

“The power of the people, over 60,000 and growing have spoken in strong opposition and overwhelmed the process for the first time. Port Ambrose LNG facility is treading water for now, but the ship isn’t sunk yet. We need all hands on deck and to keep up the pressure. Resolutions need to be passed, petitions signed urging both Governors to veto this dangerous proposal when the application is final. It is clear we have Liberty Natural Gas on the run, but the fight is not over and we will continue to fight until the ship has officially sunk.”

Liberty’s chief executive, Roger Whelan, said stopping the clock is a normal part of the process. “We support the Coast Guard’s efforts to conduct an extensive and thorough federal review and are confident the results will show the Port Ambrose project will have minimal impact on the environment,” he said in a statement.

Debate Swirls Over Port Ambrose Project Slated for Long Island Waters

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.

Southern Pine Beetle Confirmed for the First Time in New York State

The arrival of an invasive species on Long Island poses a threat to a highly significant ecosystem for all of New York State.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, in cooperation with other state and federal agencies, has confirmed the presence of southern pine beetle (SPB) in three locations along the southern shore of Long Island. The agency released a statement this morning.

The presence of the beetle was confirmed after the discovery of dead and dying pine trees in portions of the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge, Connetquot River State Park and the Henry’s Hollow Pine Barrens State Forest. This is the first detection of SPB in New York State, says the DEC.

“The Long Island Pine Barrens is a unique and precious natural resource,” said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. “Its signature pitch pine resource is seriously threatened by this newly discovered, non-native insect. We are hopeful we have discovered this insect’s presence at an early stage and are committed to working with local, State and Federal partners to determine the extent of the infestation and minimize its spread and impacts.”

The Central Pine Barrens lies over a Federally-designated sole-source aquifer which “provides the only supply of potable drinking water for many of the nearly two million residents of Suffolk County,” said Barrens Commission Executive Director John Pavacic.

The Barrens also contains “one of the highest concentrations of rare, endangered and threatened animal and plant species in all of New York State, some of which are found only on Long Island,” he added.

Possible Connection to Climate Change

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Left: The southern pine beetle. Photo credit: University of Florida. | Right: “Pitch tubes” caused by southern pine beetle larvae burrowing out of the tree. Photo credit: Tim Tigner, Virginia Department of Forestry, Bugwood.org.

The state says that the SPB is a bark beetle native to the southern United States, which has steadily expanded its range north and westward, possibly due to climate change.

Considered one of the “most destructive forest pests in the United States,” SPB attacks all species of pine including pitch pine, the predominant species found in the Pine Barrens. An estimated 1,000 new acres of pine forests in New Jersey have been destroyed each year by SPB since it was found there in 2001.

The state will be conducting aerial surveys in the coming weeks, and suspicious looking damage will be investigated by field staff. New York is hoping to learn from New Jersey’s experience with the beetle. According to the DEC, research in New Jersey shows that SPB in the north east will “most likely overwinter in the pupal stage,” making the coming winter season “a window of opportunity to analyze the situation and devise a strategy to combat it.”

The New York Times reported yesterday that low temperatures last winter “had some biologists and land managers hoping that infesting populations would be killed off,” but a biologist with the National Forest Service stated that the cold snaps “did not last long enough to eliminate the beetles, or prevent them from reproducing.”

Public Is Urged to Help

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Forest damage caused by the southern pine beetle. Photo credit: Ronald F. Billings, Texas Forest Service

DEC urges the public to report any recently dead pine they encounter in the Long Island area, especially if there are several trees grouped together.

Sightings should be reported to the Forest Health Diagnostic Lab through the toll-free information line, 1-866-640-0652 or by email, foresthealth@dec.ny.gov.

If possible, accompany any reports via email with photos of the trees including close ups of any damage. An added item in the photo for scale, such as a penny, would help with identification.

SPB photos and maps related to the recent areas of discovery are available on DEC’s website.

“Minimizing the damage to the over 100,000 acres of pine habitat on Long Island is paramount,” says the state.

What We Heard from Long Island Climate Activists on Sunday: Start Local

In the wake of Sunday’s landmark Climate March, the United Nations has begun deliberations that are supposed to lead to a new set of carbon emissions limits next year. How can the voices from Sunday’s march penetrate the halls of the U.N.?

The hundreds of grassroots, community-based organizations who marched say they are paving the way for global climate action by creating a broad base of support at the local level.

Michael Turi of Nassau County People’s Climate spoke with NY Environment Report about the impact of climate change on the Southern Shore of Long Island, and the group’s hopes for the U.N. climate summit. Turi described the group as “citizen activists” who “care about the environment and [are] showing it with their feet.”

 

 

What’s the Long Island grassroots strategy for obtaining meaningful action on climate change, we asked Turi. “There needs to be enough of a message [from Sunday’s march] so they [political leaders] can go back and get the buy-in of the people who they represent,” he answered.

“And those people will tell their leaders: this is important to us; this is what matters; this is real. It’s affecting everybody and it’s already started and it’s only going to get worse and more expensive, and we need to spend the time dealing with it now to prevent what could happen later.”

This philosophy of building pressure from below applies to political leaders across the globe, said Turi. He added that the cumulative power of environmental action at the local level should not be under-estimated.

“We’re participating in something larger than ourselves today but it’s important to act where you are,” Turi stressed.

“There are environmental issues locally in every community that need to be addressed including as pertains to climate change…We care about climate change in Nassau County, and that’s where we’re going to act upon it. All of these people …[at the march] they’re from somewhere. If everyone acts where they are, that adds up to a lot of trench and action.”

 

Throughout the week we will be posting audio recordings of interviews with participants at Sunday’s Climate March. We think that the marchers -and their experiences dealing with local environmental issues- represent an enormous collective resource.