Scores of environmental advocates joined with their elected officials outside City Hall on Monday to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto the Port Ambrose natural gas terminal, which would be built almost 20 miles off the coast of Long Island’s South Shore.
Opponents of the Port Ambrose terminal say the project will increase demand for natural gas, which is extracted through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that injects a toxic chemical cocktail into the earth and can poison nearby water supplies. Anti-fracking activists scored a major victory in December when Cuomo banned fracking in New York State.
“We have some victories that we can celebrate. We banned fracking,” said City Councilman Donovan Richards, who is chairman of the Committee on Environmental Protection. “I think we have an opportunity to work with the governor once again to get it right. I think that he has a chance to be two for two, instead of one for two.”
The rally was held on the last day for public comments on an environmental impact study released by the Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, the federal agencies tasked with accessing how the project might affect surrounding communities. More than 60,000 comments had been submitted by Monday morning. An overwhelming majority of the comments opposed building Port Ambrose and disputed the study’s conclusion that the project would have a minimal impact on the environment.
The speakers at the rally argued that the Port Ambrose terminal threatened the marine ecosystem and there was a risk the volatile fuel might explode and pollute the waters around coastal communities. They also said that the terminal would interfere with plans to build an offshore wind farm in the same area.
City Councilman Corey Johnson, who was arrested in 2013 along with a dozen anti-fracking activists for protesting the construction of the Spectra pipeline in the West Village, called on the community and environmental groups who fought for the New York fracking ban to bring the same attention to the Port Ambrose terminal.
“I’m very glad and happy that the state health commissioner and Governor Cuomo saw the light of day and did the right thing [by banning fracking]. But they only did the right thing because activists put pressure on them,” said Johnson. “I’m willing to get arrested again. You let me know where and when.”
Liberty Natural Gas, the developer behind Port Ambrose, has said the terminal would only be used to import natural gas and would reduce energy costs during peak consumption periods, such as the recent cold snap this winter.
However, those who oppose the project argue that it doesn’t make sense to import natural gas considering that domestic gas prices are much lower than they are in the rest of world. They believe that once the terminal is built, Liberty will apply for a new license to allow the Port Ambrose facility to export natural gas, which would increase demand for fracked gas.
“It doesn’t make sense economically,” said Jessica Roff, programs manager for the environmental group Catskill Mountainkeeper. She pointed out that 31 permits for liquefied natural gas terminals have been submitted to the federal government. Port Ambrose is the only one to apply only for an import permit.
“We’re all confident that this is going to get transitioned over to an export facility if it is indeed passed. This means greater pressure to frack in the Northeast,” she said. “We’re very lucky in New York State that Governor Cuomo started us on the right path by banning fracking in New York. But that means that our neighbors in Pennsylvania pick up the slack and that’s not okay either. We don’t want there to be fracking anywhere.”
Long Island resident and activist George Povell said that opposition to Port Ambrose is almost unanimous in the coastal communities closest to the proposed facility. Many of the area’s elected officials, including Senate Republican majority leader Dean Skelos, have vocally opposed the project.
Aileen Sheil, NYPIRG Board of Directors Chairperson and Queens College student, said that stopping the Port Ambrose Terminal was a chance for New York State to once again show leadership in the global battle against fracking. She said that it would be huge victory for advocates of renewable energy to stop the Port Ambrose terminal and build a wind farm in its place.
“To be a leader in renewable energy is really a great responsibility and one we shouldn’t screw up,” she said.