Wyalusing-Gibbstown LNG project suffers another setback
| March 25, 2022
A contentious on-again, off-again plan to process liquified natural gas in Pennsylvania and transport it to a port on the Delaware River in New Jersey has suffered another setback.
A company behind the project, Bradford County Real Estate Partners, reached a settlement on March 18 with environmental advocacy groups that challenged an air quality permit issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for the $800 million project.
Under the settlement, the company agreed to shelve construction for now, its permit will expire and it will start the application process from scratch, said Jessica O’Neill, a lawyer with PennFuture, which challenged the permit with the Clean Air Council and Sierra Club.
Without the permit, construction on the LNG plant in Wyalusing, Pa., cannot start, O’Neill said.
It’s another blow to the planned facility, which was supposed to be up and operating by now.
Here’s what happened:
In December 2018, Bradford County Real Estate Partners applied for an air quality permit, which the DEP approved in July 2019. Under DEP rules, the company then had 18 months to begin construction. When work on the site did not begin on time, the DEP granted an extension, and, later, a second one.
The advocacy groups filed an administrative appeal with the state’s Environmental Hearing Board, arguing, among other things, that in its second extension, the DEP set air pollution limits too high, according to a PennFuture statement.
Under the settlement, Bradford County Real Estate Partners agreed it would shelve construction of the Wyalusing plant for now and let its permit expire in July. In return, the environmental organizations dropped their appeal.
Bradford County Real Estate Partners is a subsidiary of New Fortress Energy, the overall sponsor of the LNG project. NFE did not respond to a request for comment.
Restarting the permit application process could add at least six months to a project that’s already been beset by delays and that still faces significant regulatory hurdles.
Work on the site in Wyalusing has already been on hold for more than a year.
“There can be no assurances that we will complete (the Wyalusing site),” NFE has said in federal regulatory filings, adding that it had “repurposed” approximately $17 million of engineering and equipment to another company project.
NFE wants to ship as much as 3 million gallons of liquified natural gas per day via rail and highway from Wyalusing to a Delaware River port in Gibbstown, N.J. From there, LNG would be shipped to overseas markets.
Routes mapped by opponents of the plan show that various paths could cut through as many as 18 Pennsylvania and New Jersey counties,15 of them in the Delaware River watershed.
The project calls for as many as 100 LNG rail tankers and as many as 400 highway trucks per day snaking through or near densely populated communities, such as Allentown, Philadelphia, Reading, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Camden, N.J.
The plan has drawn criticism over its potential impacts to water and air quality and has drawn broad opposition to so-called “bomb trains” carrying highly flammable LNG through populated areas.
As Delaware Currents has reported, the plan also faces political, regulatory, legal and economic headwinds that have called its viability into question.
One of the latest wrinkles was the expiration of a special permit to transport LNG by rail, which was a linchpin to the project. The permit expired in November and the company filed a last-minute renewal application with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, where it faces an uncertain future.
Further, a critical decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission looms about whether it will assert jurisdiction over the project. If it does, that could mean new rounds of reviews that would introduce more scrutiny and chances for the project to be delayed or derailed.
FERC commissioners were meeting on Thursday, but the Wyalusing project was not on their agenda.
O’Neill vowed that the advocacy groups would remain vigilant about the project’s progress, adding, “We’re continuing to pay attention and watchdog this scheme.”