Gibbstown LNG Dock 1 got Coast Guard’s “Letter of Recommendation”
Letter dated Dec. 18, 2019

| May 14, 2021

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A port in Gibbstown, N.J., that will play a pivotal role in a plan to transport liquified natural gas from Pennsylvania and export it to foreign markets via the Delaware River has gained a critical endorsement from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2019, Delaware Currents has confirmed.

The Coast Guard’s “Letter of Recommendation” for the Repauno Port and Rail Terminal in Gibbstown to handle LNG as well as liquified petroleum gas is a significant hurdle cleared by the applicants.

The Coast Guard previously would not say whether it had issued the letter, which Delaware Currents recently gained through a New Jersey Open Public Records Act request from Gloucester County, N.J.

The project, which is being backed by subsidiaries or related companies of New Fortress Energy, has many moving parts and has been subjected to reviews and approvals of nearly two dozen local, state and federal agencies.

It has drawn national attention, both from backers of LNG and detractors, who worry about the environmental and public safety hazards of the project.

Key among those agencies reviewing the project has been the Coast Guard, which, because of its jurisdiction over the Delaware Bay and River, needed to issue a “Letter of Recommendation.”

Specifically, the agency had to review a detailed assessment filed by the project sponsor, Delaware River Partners, an affiliate of New Fortress, to ensure that it would comply with federal regulations related to waterfront facilities handling LNG.

The letter is not an approval per se as much as it is a recommendation to the appropriate jurisdictional authorities that the waterway is suitable for an increase in LPG and LNG traffic, provided certain conditions are met.

Among the letter’s highlights:

  • The intended route for the LNG/LPG carriers would take them 86.5 nautical miles through the Delaware River and Bay from the Repauno port, under the Delaware Memorial and Commodore-Barry Bridges, past Chester, Pa., and Wilmington, Del.
  • Security measures would be enforced and a “Restricted Navigation Area” put in place while ships carrying LNG or LPG were in transit in the area.
  • LNG would be delivered to Repauno by truck and pumped directly from a transportation tank truck to an LNG vessel. Repauno is expected to have an LNG export capacity of 20 million barrels per year. The size of LNG vessels is expected to be 830,000 barrels, with an estimated loading time of 15 days.
  • All aspects of the waterway route were evaluated including “tides and currents, prevailing weather, density and character of marine traffic, deep draft vessel management, recreational boating, navigational aids (buoys, markers etc.), surrounding community impacts, and relevant environmental considerations.”

The letter touted “an excellent 50-year safety record” of LPG transport on the Delaware and said that specialized LNG/LPG carriers are “built to specific regulatory standards and are operated only by specially trained and proficient captains and crews.”

Oddly, the letter, which is dated Dec. 18, 2019, makes no mention of the transportation of LNG by rail – only by highway tankers.

Further it says Delaware River Partners “proposes to site, construct, and operate a multi-use, single berth, deep-water port and logistics center that may include a variety of separate uses, including handling of imported and exported automobiles, other bulk freight and liquid energy products including, but not limited to LNG and LPG.”

The letter is silent about a second dock with two deep-water berths that would require the dredging of approximately 665,000 cubic yards of sediment. That second dock was part of a project approved by the Delaware River Basin Commission in December.

A Coast Guard spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Katie Blue, clarified that the existing letter of recommendation is in effect and that there were no pending updates to it.

At the time of the Coast Guard’s review, there was only a single dock, No. 1, and no application for a second dock. The letter addressed only the capacity – and export limits — of what was available via the single dock. 

“The current Letter of Recommendation was issued after the review of the initial Letter of Intent, which included only one berth,” Blue said.

How the potential use of a second dock might affect the Coast Guard’s letter of recommendation is unclear.  

If there are changes that result in an increase in the size and/or frequency of LNG or LPG marine traffic on the waterway, Delaware River Partners would have to update its assessment, Blue added, without indicating whether such an update would prompt further review.

The letter is another regulatory hurdle cleared by the project, which proposes to take fracked gas sent via pipeline to a liquification plant in Wyalusing, Pa., where it would be cooled to 260 degrees below zero and then sent by rail and/or highway to Gibbstown.

Some elements of the project are in litigation but perhaps the largest remaining regulatory hurdle is whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency will claim jurisdiction over the project.

New Fortress has sought to have FERC disclaim jurisdiction. A full-fledged FERC review could set off environmental assessments that could consider the ecological, cultural and human impacts of the project.

That, in turn, could also mean opportunities for litigation to challenge the quality and thoroughness of those reviews – all of which could amount to added time, scrutiny and chances for the project to be delayed or derailed.

Chris Mele

Chris Mele

Chris Mele is a reporter and editor with more than 30 years of experience in news, specializing in investigative and enterprise reporting.

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