Plan to export Pennsylvania natural gas by rail sidetracked by feds

The U.S. Department of Transportation suspended a Trump-era rule that would allow rail shipments of LNG

By: - September 1, 2023 3:11 pm

Rail tank cars are often used to transport hazardous materials. (Greg Goebel/Wikimedia Commons)

Federal officials have suspended a Trump Administration rule that would have allowed the shipment of explosive liquified natural gas on rail cars through dozens of eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey communities.

The move on Friday by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, deals a blow to a proposal by New Fortress Energy to export Marcellus Shale gas using a virtual pipeline of rail tank cars and trucks.

Opponents of the project said the catastrophic derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in February near the Pennsylvania border in East Palestine, Ohio, highlights the peril of transporting hazardous materials by rail.

“People of Pennsylvania and New Jersey living near key rail lines would have faced damage to their health, families, and homes in the event of a derailment,” Kimberly Ong, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Counsel said in a statement Friday.

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New Fortress affiliates have plans to build a natural gas liquefaction plant in Wyalusing, Bradford County, and a terminal in Gibbstown, N.J., where the liquified natural gas would be loaded on ocean going tankers for shipment to foreign markets. 

New Fortress affiliate Energy Transport Solutions had applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation for a permit to ship LNG by rail on a 200-mile route between Wyalusing and Gibbstown, sending hundreds of train cars through densely populated areas including Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Allentown and Philadelphia.

Although the DOT denied the permit in May, Energy Transport Solutions would still have been able to ship LNG by rail under the Trump-era regulation that PHMSA suspended Friday, according to the NRDC, one of several environmental groups fighting the project.

The suspension only pauses the rule until 2025, but the DOT has the opportunity to make a new rule to restore the ban on transportation of LNG by rail that was in place before the Trump administration, Ong said in a statement.

“After pausing the rule, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg should put a new rule in place that restores the ban on LNG by rail once and for all. That would finally put an end to the threat to communities around Gibbstown and other communities targeted by similar dangerous projects,” Ong said.

LNG is a denser, more easily transportable form of the natural gas used to heat homes and generate electricity around the world.

Environmental advocates have opposed plans to ship natural gas from Pennsylvania because in addition to increasing the use of fossil fuels, LNG is highly volatile and can fuel fires and explosions.

Rising energy prices and sanctions banning the import of Russian natural gas after that nation’s invasion of Ukraine last year have created an international market for the fuel extracted from the Marcellus Shale formation in the Appalachian Basin.

Several sites in the Philadelphia area, with its deepwater port on the Delaware River, have been proposed for the construction of LNG terminals. 

Residents in Chester, Delaware County, which is across the river from Gibbstown, spoke out in opposition to a proposed LNG terminal there at a recent state House LNG Export Task Force hearing.

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The NRDC along with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Food and Water Watch, Sierra Club New Jersey, Berks Gas Truth, Environment New Jersey, Catskill Mountainkeeper, and others have opposed New Fortress’ application for approval of the project from several agencies.

The Delaware River Basin Commission approved the project but a Clean Water Act permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is on hold, according to NRDC. The coalition is also petitioning the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to exercise jurisdiction over the New Fortress project.

 

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.

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