Delaware was ahead of its time when it banned liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals under the Coastal Zone Management Program that was created in 1971, and it has kept the prohibition in place for very good public safety and environmental reasons. Now, an LNG developer wants to construct an export terminal just 6.3 miles north of the Delaware border, skirting the First State’s laws.
The Gibbstown LNG Export Terminal project intends to ship LNG from a proposed dock at a deep-water port in Gibbstown, Gloucester County, New Jersey, on the Delaware River for sale overseas. The ships would traverse the Delaware River and Bay, passing many Delaware communities, including densely populated areas, environmental justice communities and areas of unique and vulnerable environmental, economic and natural value to reach the Atlantic Ocean and foreign ports.
LNG would arrive by rail car or truck round the clock, 365 days per year, at the Gibbstown Terminal. The rail cars were designed 50 years ago and never used for LNG transport, while subsequent federal rulemaking requires a safer rail car design for all other carriers. Delaware is within a possible impact zone from an LNG accident at the terminal, where perpetual transloading from rail and truck onto waiting ships, an extremely dangerous operation, would occur. The likely LNG tank truck route across the Commodore Barry Bridge is only 2.85 miles upriver from Delaware; up to 700 trucks per day could travel to the terminal.
The LNG ships from Gibbstown would have to travel in close proximity to densely populated areas in Delaware, so close to Wilmington that the City Council there passed a resolution against the project for public safety reasons. Lewes is within a mile or two of the channel, and Rehoboth Beach is not much farther, threatening dense summer populations and irreplaceable assets with disaster. The ships would have to navigate the river channel for 90 miles before reaching the open sea, exposing communities, the coastal environment and property to enormous risk with every passage. No other ship three football fields’ long travels our busy ports today from so far upriver.
LNG has unique dangers that make a release a potential catastrophe. The liquid immediately expands by 600 times when it hits the air, releasing explosive amounts of energy. The results can be an inextinguishable fire, powerful explosions set off by a single spark and cold vapor clouds that can kill people. Spillage of LNG into water presents a hazardous situation, as the water quickly transfers heat to the liquid methane, causing it to expand with explosive speed that can result in tragic damage. Explosions can quickly occur and have a cascading effect as the vapor cloud moves downwind, potentially for many miles.
A 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office examined the public safety issues of a terrorist attack on marine vessels carrying LNG, examining many scenarios, including bomblike explosions and the potential for a “cascading failure” of the ship’s holding tanks, causing disastrous fires. Terroristic acts were identified as a threat; Congress has charged federal agencies with analyzing locations that are especially vulnerable.
Delaware gains no benefit from the proposed Gibbstown LNG export terminal, yet bears great risk and potential catastrophe. The state’s cautious LNG terminal ban has protected Delawareans for decades from the unique hazards of LNG projects.
Why would Delaware acquiesce now to a New Jersey company’s special interests, which expose the public and precious coastal resources to such unacceptable dangers? The proposed Gibbstown LNG Export Terminal must be stopped.
Tracy Carluccio is deputy director at Delaware Riverkeeper Network, a nonprofit environmental organization working to protect the Delaware River watershed in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. More information can be found at delawareriverkeeper.org.