The Delaware River will now become a key piece of the Pennsylvania natural gas industry as plans to build an export terminal on the river have been approved. However, the decision did not come without controversy and backlash from concerned citizens and environmental groups.
The plan, proposed by investment firm Delaware River Partners LLC, is to build a 1,300-foot pier on a former DuPont plant in Gibbstown, N.J. The pier extends into the Delaware River, and will be used to load and offload ships transporting goods through the port. Though the facility will be used for non-natural gas related shipments, the site will be constructed with liquefied natural gas (LNG) at the forefront of design.
Domestic LNG has grown as a major export in the United States since 2016. Prior to that, American LNG exports never surpassed 15.11 billion cubic feet (b/cf). In 2016, at the height of gas production in the Marcellus and Utica basins, exports began to skyrocket, reaching 2,503 b/cf in 2020. An export terminal on the Delaware River would only add to the upward trend, as it would provide opportunities for exporting Marcellus and Utica gas from northeast Pa. in addition to the present options on the Gulf Coast.
Many environmental groups oppose the plan, including the Sierra Club and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. Concerns include the increase in rail and truck traffic hauling tanks of LNG through heavily populated areas and the dangers associated with such transport, air and water quality concerns, and the general expansion of the fossil fuel industry.
Their concerns are certainly warranted, as transporting LNG is a dangerous practice. Aside from the logistical issues that arise, given that LNG must be super-cooled to -260 degrees Fahrenheit, there are many potential dangers that could arise during transport. The main concerns during transport are explosions from spills or tank failures, or from accidents such as train derailment. Adding to the potential danger is methane, a key component of LNG, cannot be extinguished with water, but rather dry chemical extinguishers, rendering emergency fire crews useless unless properly equipped.
The Delaware River Basin Commission is comprised of five representatives from four states and the federal government. The states represented are Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. The Commission approved the plans in a 4-0 vote, with the New York representative abstaining after expressing that more time was needed for deliberation. This is the second time the Commission has voted and approved the plan, after the first approval in June was appealed. The Commission decided to hold a second vote after more information was submitted regarding the project and more time was allowed for deliberation. Environmental groups have expressed that they will be appealing this decision as well.
As the project is now approved, it is expected that construction of the facility should begin in 2021. Additional midstream infrastructure will also be developed in order to bring gas from reserves in Western Pennsylvania to LNG processing facilities and for eventual export.