Environmentalists on Monday decried the federal government’s approval of permits to move liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail from northern Pennsylvania to a new port terminal in Gloucester County.

The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) on Friday approved a request by Energy Transport Solutions LLC to move LNG, produced from fracking Pennsylvania shale gas wells, to the Repauno Port and Rail Terminal in the Gibbstown section of Greenwich Township.

The special permit would allow the company to move as many as 100 rail cars of fuel a day from a plant in Wyalusing to the marine terminal, built on the site of the former DuPont Co. Repauno Works in New Jersey. LNG is made from natural gas that has been cooled to minus-260 degrees to convert it into a liquid, and would be carried in double-walled insulated tank cars specifically designed to transport cryogenic materials.

The Trump administration has championed LNG exports as a means to influence international policy. Climate activists say the exports enable more fossil fuel development.

Local environmental groups, including the Empower NJ coalition that opposes expansion of fossil fuel use, opposed the permits on safety and environmental grounds, and denounced the permit approval as “reckless.” So did the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio, who condemned the approval as “deeply disturbing” and “irresponsible.”

The route is not prescribed, but Norfolk Southern serves the Wyalusing area, and its lines cross Philadelphia and feed traffic across the Delair Bridge, which crosses the Delaware River between Port Richmond and Pennsauken just below the Betsy Ross Bridge. The permit could entail the use of “unit trains” that include 20 or more rail cars carrying the same product.

According to PHMSA’s final environmental assessment, moving LNG by rail is more cost-efficient and has fewer environmental impacts than transporting it by truck, and “will not result in significant impacts to the human environment."

Locator map of former DuPont Repauno Works plant, site of a planned gas terminal on the Delaware River. Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
John Duchneskie / Staff
Locator map of former DuPont Repauno Works plant, site of a planned gas terminal on the Delaware River. Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Moving LNG by rail has some risk to public safety similar to other hazardous materials, PHMSA said, but “the risk is considered very low and is minimized by implementing the safety control measures set forth in the special permit.”

The safety control measures include remotely monitoring each tank car for pressure, location, and leaks while it is being transported, and requiring the shipper to train local emergency responders in how to deal with a potential accidents.

Delaware River Partners LLC, which is building the port facility, is owned by a company that is controlled and managed by Fortress Investment Group, a New York hedge fund affiliated with New Fortress Energy.

New Fortress has proposed building a 3.6-million-gallon-per-day natural gas liquefaction plant in north-central Pennsylvania, and says it plans to export the LNG it produces to locations in the Caribbean.

Delaware River Partners LLC say LNG is only one of several commodities that may be shipped from the port, including other fuels, automobiles, and bulk cargo.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has approved waterfront development permits for the terminal, but still needs a water quality certificate from DEP, said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

New Fortress Energy on Wednesday issued a statement in response to the PHMSA announcement:

“This special permit is a significant milestone that establishes requirements for moving domestic LNG in a safe and efficient manner. It supports our efforts to bring cleaner and more affordable energy to markets that are reliant on oil-based fuels. We look forward to continuing to work with PHMSA, other regulatory agencies and the railroad industry as this project advances.”

This story was updated Wednesday to include the statement from New Fortress Energy.