ON LNG… WHAT IS RFA THINKING?

Liberty Natural Gas’s “Port Ambrose” just seems bad all around

I had to do a double-take when I opened a New York Times link last week to read an article: Fight Over Plan for Natural Gas Port Off Long Island .  Inset was a photo of the Recreational Fishing Alliance’s Jim Donofrio.  Not unusual really (while I rarely see eye-to-eye with that organization, they usually seem to be on the right page when it comes to things like this) except that the text under the photo read “Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, urges people not to dismiss the idea of a natural gas port.”  Seriously?  Everything I had read up to now has shown that Liberty Natural Gas’ “Port Ambrose” is bad for anglers, or any ocean users. Also from a security standpoint, it appears to be pretty bad for New York Harbor.  Given this is an area I fish pretty hard every single year, it got me a little worried.  So, I’m scratching my head wondering why.

“Port Ambrose” is a proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) port that would consist of two submerged buoys sitting about 30 feet off the seabed, with a radius of about 40 feet.  It would potentially be located about twenty miles due South of Jones Beach in Long Island and 30-miles due east of Monmouth Beach in Jersey, allowing huge ships to directly connect to the region’s natural gas system.

LNG is gas that has been super-chilled to -260 degrees, turning it into a liquid that is 1/600th the original volume of gas, so large volumes can be transported overseas.  The gas is clear, colorless, and extremely explosive.  So much so that Governor Christie vetoed a similar proposal in 2011 and in 2012. According to the Governor’s original veto, it “created a heightened risk in a densely developed region, including potential accidents or sabotage disrupting commerce in the Port of New York and New Jersey.”

According to the permit application, among the environmental impacts, the port would discharge 3.5 million gallons of chemically-treated seawater used for pipe tests.  During construction the project would apparently dredge up over 20-miles of seafloor, which would likely wipe out the fishing in a large area for a long time.  There will most certainly be significant underwater noise pollution during construction as well.  And given the volatility of LNG there will most certainly be a large exclusionary zone where there will be no fishing, or any sort of recreational or commercial activity, both during construction and probably for the life of the port.  It’s hard to see how Port Ambrose wouldn’t affect just about all ocean uses in the area including fishing, diving, boating, and shipping.  And, the possible site, in the middle of a recently proposed offshore wind area, would pretty much stifle what has been significant and recent movement toward wind-power in the area.

Upland, there is concern that construction of such an LNG port could lead to increased shale gas extraction, aka “fracking”.  The port would of course be close to the Marcellus Shale, which lies beneath parts of New York and Pennsylvania and contains natural gas that can be extracted, should a state moratorium on the process known as “hydrofracking” be lifted.  There are certainly those that argue that such fracking would destroy the Delaware River trout fishery, and it likely would.

A LNG Port off Long Island could cause the NY ban on Fracking to be lifted

Liberty Natural Gas contends that the proposed port will be used to import LNG from abroad, not export it, yet there is nothing in the law that would prevent the company, or a future owner of the port, from using it to ship shale gas to foreign countries.

Liberty Natural Gas filed the proposal with the federal Maritime Administration and the Coast Guard last month.  It must go through a rigorous yearlong process, including environmental impact studies and public hearings.   Assuming it clears all the numerous hurdles it faces, in the end none of it would matter if Governor Christie and/or Governor Cuomo veto it.  Given the recent history, I can’t imagine they won’t.

So why on earth is RFA even engaged here?  And seemingly on the “wrong” side to boot.  Certainly there isn’t a way anglers, or the recreational fishing industry could benefit?  Or could it?  While I can’t confirm it, there have been rumors that Liberty Natural Gas would provide more than $20M in mitigation money for the exclusionary zone the facility would require.  A lot of that would likely benefit the party boats from central and Northern New Jersey and of course Long Island.  I’m one of the most cynical guys around, but I can’t believe that this would be a reason RFA would consider supporting this.  I mean come on man… that would be the true definition of “selling out”.  So let’s take that off the table right now.

In the New York Times Article, Donofrio refers to the opposition to the Port Ambrose as “showroom environmentalists”.  I get it! RFA is and has been anti-environmental/anti-conservation for an awful long time.  Because of course everyone knows that environmentalists, even if they are fishermen themselves, are out to end all fishing, right! To simplify it, the RFA folks support the taking of more fish, and the folks that want to keep more fish in the water so we can enjoy healthy more abundant fisheries often stand in the way of them getting what they want.  But to support something that seems so obviously bad for anglers to spite the enviros?  Naaa…  Still not that cynical.

And I should note here that Clean Ocean Action, the folks that seem to be leading the opposition to Port Ambrose, is hardly a “showroom environmentalist” group.  They are about as small, local and grassroots as you can get.  And a good portion of their constituents include commercial and recreational fishermen.

RFA hasn’t come out in outright support of the Port Ambrose proposal.  According to the New York Times article they are “reviewing the proposal”.  But given the photo and the quotes in the article they certainly appear to be leaning that way.  Yes, there may be benefits to such a facility.  It could lower heating costs by increasing supply, create construction-related jobs and generate in state and federal tax revenue, but at what cost?  I can’t see how such a port wouldn’t adversely affect fishermen.  Like I said, I’m scratching my head on this one.  I sure would like to see an explanation.

That said, I don’t expect to get a reasonable one.  I expect the usual personal attacks for just putting the question out there.  More of the same, about how I’m a radical or some crap like that because after all, in addition to generating a significant amount of my income from my charter fishing business, I also run the grants program for a foundation that funds equipment for organizations working to protect natural resources (e.g. CCA, Trout Unlimited, RiverKeeper, etc.).  But I’d have to think that the large majority of anglers think like I do on this one.

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After obtaining an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Loyola College in Maryland, Captain John McMurray served in the US Coast Guard for four years as a small-boat coxswain and marine-fisheries law enforcement officer. He was then recruited to become the first Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation Association New York. He is currently the Director of Grants Programs at the Norcross Wildlife Foundation in New York. He is the owner and primary operator of “One More Cast” Charters. John is a well known and well published outdoor writer, specializing in fisheries conservation issues. In 2006 John was awarded the Coastal Conservation Association New York Friend of Fisheries Conservation Award.

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