Shawmar Pitts, co-managing director of Philly Thrive, speaks during a news conference held by opponents to the construction of a liquified natural gas export terminal in Chester, Delaware County, on Tuesday, August 22, 2023. (screenshot, Pa. House Democrats video)
Community leaders said Tuesday that a plan to build a $6.4 billion liquid natural gas export terminal would compound decades of environmental injustice in Chester, one of Pennsylvania’s poorest cities.
Advocates, including the city’s Democratic nominee for mayor, vowed to fight construction of the facility proposed by a New York firm to prepare natural gas from northeast and western Pennsylvania for shipment to markets in Europe and elsewhere.
“New polluting industries are not welcome in Chester. The health and safety of Chester residents have been compromised by local industry for too long,” Chester Councilperson Stefan Roots said.
Speaking at a hearing of the Philadelphia Liquid Natural Gas Export Task Force, chaired by state Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, Roots said the legacy of Chester’s industrial history is a higher disease rate among the Delaware County city’s 35,000 residents.
Roots said the terminal proposed by Penn LNG, would go against the community vision for Chester’s future by occupying its waterfront, destroying neighborhoods and locking the city into its industrial past.
Penn LNG is headed by a Philadelphia native, Franc James, who has worked to set up LNG facilities in other parts of the region, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. The company also touts former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer as its executive vice president of government and regulatory affairs.
Created through legislation that White sponsored and signed into law last year, the LNG export task force is studying obstacles preventing Philadelphia from becoming a leader in exporting natural gas.
Rising energy costs in the last two decades have made extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus shale formations in the Appalachian Basin economically viable and provided the region with an abundance of the fuel.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent economic sanctions made the development of new LNG export capacity more urgent as U.S. allies scrambled to find new energy supplies and the demand and prices for natural gas soared, supporters of the project say.
Carl Marrara, executive director of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, said only two LNG export facilities operate on the east coast. Dominion Energy’s Cove Point Terminal in Lusby, Maryland, is closest in size to the plant proposed for Chester, Marrara said.
PMA used the Cove Point facility to model the economic impact that a similar LNG terminal on the Delaware River would have on the region’s economy. The construction alone would create more than 29,000 jobs and $4.8 billion in economic activity over four years, Marrara said.
The plant itself would employ about 200 people and directly support another 300 in natural gas production. The overall economic impact of the project would be $2.5 billion each year that the plant operates, Marrara said.
“Ultimately, what this comes down to is that this means jobs and significant tax revenue for an area of the Commonwealth that desperately needs it,” he said. “This is about employing good hardworking Pennsylvanians and making Pennsylvania an actual energy leader on the world stage.”
The hearing at Widener University in Chester was the third held by the task force, which, in addition to White, includes state Sens Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, and Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, state Rep. Joseph Hohenstein, D-Philadelphia, and representatives of state and local government.
It also includes members of industry that would benefit from the construction of an LNG export terminal including natural gas industry executive Toby Rice; Stephanie Catarino Wissman, executive director of the American Petroleum Institute-PA; and Steamfitters Local 420 business manager Jim Snell.
White received $27,500 in campaign funding from Steamfitters Local 420’s political committee during her last reelection campaign.
The task force took criticism after its first hearing in April and the Philadelphia Navy Yard when a number of opponents of the Chester proposal said they were barred from attending the hearing in person.
Environmental justice advocate Zulene Mayfield, who founded Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living, said the placement of the plant in Chester is an act of environmental discrimination.
In the past two decades there have been a number of efforts to site an LNG terminal in the Philadelphia area including the northeast neighborhood of Port Richmond and across the river in New Jersey.
Mayfield said the placement of the project in Chester would place the environmental burden on a primarily Black, brown and impoverished community.
“Setting up an LNG facility in our neighborhoods would bring spills, possible explosions, and contamination on top of the damage already being done to our air quality and atmosphere,” said Mayfield, who has fought for decades to shut down the nation’s largest trash incinerator in Chester.
A research team at the University of Pittsburgh reported findings this month that children who live near shale gas activities in southwest Pennsylvania had a greater chance of developing lymphoma.
Unlike the Cove Point facility, which was built in a rural area off the Chesapeake Bay, the Chester site is surrounded by a dense urban neighborhood. And although the proposal includes creating a buffer zone, that would require the destruction of hundreds of homes, several churches and a daycare facility, Mayfield said.
“So you’re going to take away housing, you’re gonna take away the established businesses that are already operating in our city and have been for years, you’re gonna take away our houses of worship and a damn daycare. We say no,” she said to cheers from the audience.
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