The controversial construction of a second dock at the Rapauno Port & Rail Terminal in Gibbstown, N.J. may be "re-approved" at the Delaware River Basin Commission's (DRBC) fourth-quarter business meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020.

As is typical for DRBC’s business meetings, there will be no opportunity for additional public comment on the findings and recommendations of the Hearing Officer in the matter of the Delaware River Partners' Gibbstown Logistics Center Dock 2 Adjudicatory Hearing.

As time allows, there is usually an hour of open public comment after the DRBC's meetings, which can be about any issue relevant to the Commission's management of the waters of the Delaware River Basin Those comments are not on the record.

Kate Schmidt, communications specialist for the DRBC, gave this chronology for the complicated history of this project:

DRBC approved the project in June 2019; the DRN (Delaware Riverkeeper Network) appealed that decision in July 2019.  The Commissioners granted the request for appeal in Sept. 2019.  The adjudicatory hearing took place in May 2020, and the Hearing Officer submitted his recommendation to uphold DRBC’s initial approval in July 2020.  The DRBC docket for the project remained active until Sept. 10, 2020, when the DRBC approved a motion to stay the project until the appeal was resolved.

The agenda for the Dec. 9 meeting says, "Possible (emphasis theirs) Commission action on the findings and recommendations of the Hearing Officer."

The construction design of the "Dock 2" export terminal includes two 43-foot-deep docks that would accommodate Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) temperature-controlled tanker ships. LNG is natural gas that has been cooled to a liquid state of about -260° Fahrenheit, for shipping and storage.

The DRBC approval is focused on the dock because it is in the river and not on transportation issues, which are not, and those issues are of paramount concern to opponents of the project.

Again, Schmidt:

DRBC is a federal-interstate water resources agency.  Our approval of this project was based on our regulatory authority, and for this project, our review was focused on the construction of the dock and related in-water activities.  DRBC does not have the authority to regulate operations at the facility, nor do we regulate cargo or transportation.

The full project includes more than the export terminal. It includes plans to transport LNG from the New Fortress Energy processing plant in Wyalusing Township, Bradford County, PA to the Rapauno Port & Rail Terminal in Gibbstown, N.J. Construction on that $800-million-dollar New Fortress processing plant along the Susquehanna River has been suspended until next year. The plant is expected to produce 3.6 million gallons of LNG per day.

Since there is no pipeline between Wyalusing Township and Gibbstown, the LNG must be transported by either truck or rail – or a combination of both. The routes of transportation have not been disclosed to the public. The most likely routes may pass through as many as 12 Pennsylvania counties, many of which are highly populated.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network has compiled data in cooperation with Fractracker Alliance to produce maps indicating two probable highway routes and two probable railway routes. Along each of these routes, a 2-mile-wide hazard zone and population information are displayed. View the Delaware Riverkeeper’s LNG Gibbstown transport routes Static Maps here or their Interactive Maps here for routes from Wyalusing to Gibbstown. (For the latter, scroll down on the left to choose the parameters you’d like to observe along the routes such as public and private schools and childcare centers. You may also select the alternative truck and rail routes.)

There are no USDOT restrictions along these possible routes for hazardous materials.

While vessels (e.g., tanker ships) have shipped U.S. LNG overseas, and tanker trucks have shipped LNG domestically for decades – both with a long history of safety – shipping LNG by rail in the U.S. is new. In June of 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) authorized rail transportation of LNG for the first time. The USDOT now allows the use of DOT-113C120W specification tank cars which can carry almost 30,700 gallons of LNG.

Because train cars carry much more LNG and are transported together along railways, an incident could have significant consequences. However, the Association of American Railroads says 99.999% of all hazmat railcars reach their destinations without an incident that releases product; in 2016, the number of train accidents with a hazmat product release was 0.69 for every 100,000 hazmat carloads.

An Important Lawsuit

On August 18, 2020, the Attorneys General from fourteen states — including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware — filed a lawsuit challenging the new federal rule allowing trains to carry liquefied natural gas (LNG) across the country. At this writing there is no information about when the case will be heard.

Fire Fighting Safety Measures

Opponents to rail transportation for LNG refer to the trains as "Bomb trains." The following information is excerpted from a typical Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for LNG and is meant to advise emergency responders:

LNG vapors are extremely flammable and can be ignited by heat, sparks, flames, static electricity, and other sources of ignition, such as pilot lights, mechanical/electrical equipment, and electronic devices that are not intrinsically safe.  Vapors may travel considerable distances to a source of ignition where they can ignite, flash back, or explode.  Vapors may accumulate in confined spaces.

LNG fires should not be extinguished unless the source of the leak can be stopped safely.  In most cases, it is best to eliminate the source of the leak and allow the liquid to burn off.  Isolate the spill or leak area, particularly around the ends of storage vessels, and maintain a safe distance upwind and uphill of the spill or leak area. Let the vessel, tank, or container burn unless the leak can be stopped.

LNG is stored under pressure and temperature-controlled conditions; containers of LNG exposed to excessive heat or flame may rupture violently and suddenly without warning due to vessel over‐pressurization. Fragmentation of the container should be anticipated. Withdraw immediately in the event of a rising sound from a venting safety device.

Use water fog and/or deluge to cool equipment, surfaces, and containers exposed to fire and excessive heat. Do not direct water at the source of the leak, pooled LNG, or safety devices; the indiscriminate use of water on surfaces of cryogenic containers and piping can lead to heavy icing, causing excessive loads on structures and the failure of valves, instrumentation, and other control devices. Application of water to pools of LNG will cause the LNG to vaporize more rapidly, generating more gas to feed a fire or create a larger vapor cloud. For large fires, use unmanned hose holders or monitor nozzles to minimize personnel exposure.

Appropriate fire extinguishing media include dry chemical, carbon dioxide, halon, and high expansion foam.  While water may be used to cool equipment and structures adjacent to an LNG fire, water is not an appropriate extinguishing media when responding to LNG fires as water can increase the volatilization of the LNG or cause ice formation as described above.   Avoid allowing water runoff to contact spilled materials, and do not allow LNG or runoff from firefighting activities to enter drains or water courses as the runoff may create an explosion hazard.  Large fires typically require specially trained personnel and equipment to isolate and extinguish the fire.  Hazardous combustion products include smoke, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and other products of combustion.  Oxides of nitrogen may also form.

LNG storage installations may be equipped with high expansion foam systems that protect LNG storage areas by quickly blanketing liquid LNG in the event of spill, which helps to control vapor release. High expansion foam is also used to extinguish fires; total flooding of the area of spilled LNG with high expansion foam limits the amount of oxygen required to support free combustion and provides a slow, continuous release of foam solution for cooling and vapor suppression.

Safety Compliance is Required

The USDOT codifies its regulations in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. In Part 172, Subpart I, the USDOT sets standards for Safety and Security plans for all hazmat shippers and transporters. The components include:

  • Personnel security for persons having access to and handling hazardous materials;
  • Unauthorized access prevention; and
  • En route security measures to address the assessed security risks of shipments of hazardous materials covered by the security plan en route from origin to destination, including shipments stored incidental to movement.

The USDOT subjects rail carriers of LNG to additional requirements, such as route analysis and selection, point of contact information, notifications, and recordkeeping.

Access this 5-minute YouTube video for an aerial view of the access road and rail line approaching the Repauno Port & Rail terminal in Gibbstown. (The YouTube channel of videographer Al Stinger can be accessed here.)

According to an NJDOT travel advisory, "The $9.9 million developer project will construct a new 0.6-mile truck bypass that will connect the existing Route 44 in both directions in western Gibbstown to A Line Road. The new road will reduce truck traffic traveling through residential communities, increasing quality of life and safety. The new bypass roadway will run primarily through undeveloped DuPont property adjacent to an active railroad line and existing Route 44. The southwestern terminus of the proposed bypass includes a new ramp connecting Route 44 with the new bypass just east of the existing bridge over Sand Ditch (Nehonsey Brook). The northeastern terminus includes a new intersection with A Line Road approximately 1,200 feet west of its intersection with North Repauno Avenue. The new road will have one 12-foot lane and one 10-foot shoulder in each direction."

Earlier today, Dec. 7,  the Delaware Riverkeeper Network announced its intention to file an appeal in the federal courts if the DRBC approves the docket.

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About Roseanne Bottone

Roseanne Bottone is an environmental and transportation regulatory compliance expert. She has travelled the country as a training instructor delivering workshops to businesspeople about how to manage hazardous waste and safely ship hazardous materials. For more than a decade she has been a freelance writer for local magazines, newspapers, and online publications, and she wrote a time-travel novel called “Saint John Lennon.”

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