Last-minute special permit renewal sought for Gibbstown project
| December 3, 2021
The company behind a controversial plan to export liquified natural gas from Pennsylvania to a New Jersey port on the Delaware River filed a last-minute application on Tuesday to renew a special permit to transport LNG by rail.
Energy Transport Solutions, a subsidiary of global energy giant New Fortress Energy, filed the renewal with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on Nov. 30, the day a special permit issued in 2019 was set to expire.
The PHMSA confirmed the renewal application was made but it was unclear why the applicant waited until the day of the expiration. Nor was it clear why it did not file the request 60 days before the permit’s expiration date, as required by federal rules.
Federal rules do allow an applicant to seek a renewal after a special permit has expired, however the fate of the request is unclear. Special permit renewals can be granted for up to four years and the amount of time it takes to review applications varies.
The PHMSA “reviews each application to ensure compliance with hazardous materials regulations, including verifying the applicant’s fitness,” according to the agency. “This can take days, weeks, or months, depending on a variety of factors.”
New Fortress Energy representatives did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The filing is the latest in a complex project with many moving parts that has been steeped in controversy and shrouded in a haze of confusing and, at times, contradictory signals.
The company said in previous public filings that it expected the $800 million project to be operational in the first quarter of 2022 but as time has gone by, that seemed increasingly less likely.
Work on the project site in Wyalusing has been on hold for a year and the company said in federal regulatory filings that it had “not issued a final notice to proceed to our engineering, procurement and construction contractors” and that it had “repurposed” approximately $17 million of engineering and equipment to another company project.
The proposed project would start with fracked natural gas being piped via an interconnection from the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania to a plant in Wyalusing, Pa., about 50 miles northwest of Scranton.
The plant would liquefy the gas by cooling it to 260 degrees below zero, and then send it by truck and rail to a port in Gibbstown, N.J., which is southwest of Philadelphia. From the port, the LNG would be shipped via the Delaware River to overseas markets.
The plan, which still faces several regulatory hurdles, including clearance from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has drawn opposition to having so-called “bomb trains” carrying highly flammable LNG through populated areas.
As Delaware Currents has reported in the past, the LNG plan faces a host of political, legal and economic headwinds that have called the project’s viability into question.
Among other things, there are too few of the specialized rail tankers that New Fortress would need to transport LNG, there is little interest among manufacturers to build them and they can cost as much as $750,000 per tanker to build.
Fred Millar, a rail safety expert and a critic of LNG by rail, said in an email that Wesley R. Edens, the CEO and chairman of New Fortress, “is a talented enabler of Big Oil and Gas to get every last drop of end-game profit from their holdings in fossil fuels, with LNG as the latest/last Big Thing, before the world switches to renewable energy — and politically well-connected enough to persuade investors apparently desperate for potential gains to hand over cash for his various LNG-related last-gasp schemes.”