The Delaware River Basin Commission appears ready to green light a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal at a deep-water port in Gibbstown, N.J., resuming what environmental advocates call a less-than-transparent process. The proposed facility would operate on a PCB-contaminated site that was formerly used for manufacturing explosives. Fracked gas produced near Scranton would be transported by rail or truck through densely populated parts of the Philadelphia region to Gibbstown, then loaded on ships bound for markets abroad.
The commission, a regulatory partnership among the “basin states” of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York, along with the federal government, voted to authorize the export facility in 2017, and construction of the first dock got underway. But the commission hit pause in September to study a 108-page report in which a panel of scientists and industry experts recommended that the project go forward.
A final vote may be taken Wednesday, five weeks before Delaware resident and President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Approval would be a win for the developer New Fortress Energy, which has been linked to President Donald Trump, and for the fossil fuel industry — at a time when the destructive impacts of climate change have never been more apparent. A yes vote also clears the way for construction of a second dock to help serve either 300 tanker trucks, or two trains each carrying as much as three million gallons of super-cooled LNG, that would arrive at Gibbstown daily from upstate Pennsylvania.
Supporters of the project dismiss fears of so-called ”bomb trains” as overblown, and cite projections of 300 construction jobs and as many as 150 permanent jobs in Gibbstown. Another 500 construction and 50 permanent jobs could be created by an LNG facility being built in Wyalusing, Pa. The Trump administration backs fracking and exporting natural gas, and issued a special permit for a Wyalusing-Gibbstown rail route, and has encouraged the use of specialized rail cars nationally as alternatives to pipelines. Other supporters point out the importance of natural gas in the economy of Pennsylvania, currently the second-biggest producing state in a country facing a glut of the fuel.
But more than 100 local, regional, and national advocacy groups, as well as some elected officials in the four states, have questioned the project. A letter issued last week by the Natural Resources Defense Council raised concerns that dredging a 45-acre area of the river to construct the second dock would disperse legacy pollutants, including potentially carcinogenic PCBs, into the water.
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network also released a letter from 26 Pennsylvania elected officials, including members of the state legislature and Philadelphia City Council, urging the commission to reject the project because the proposed train route would carry hazardous cargo daily through densely populated neighborhoods, including Black and brown communities.