I’ve written previously about the efforts to close the Covanta plant and reduce pollution in Chester (see here and here). This past year though, a new polluting site is being considered that would cause new environmental harms to Chester. Last summer there were several articles about the proposal to build a new liquified natural gas export terminal in Chester (see the Inquirer here and WHYY here). This month a Chester radio station put together a video with more information about the dangers this would impose to Chester. Elsewhere in PA, a similar export facility was recently defeated because of the dangers to the community.
This liquified natural gas export terminal is a facility that takes natural gas from pipelines, liquifies it and loads it onto tanker ships for shipment, likely primarily to Europe. The main benefits of this facility would go to the multinational corporations that will be able to sell their gas at higher prices in Europe for more profits. After construction, there would be little benefit to Chester. Because natural gas drillers can sell their natural gas at higher prices in other markets, it would likely raise natural gas prices in the U.S.
But the hazards of this facility are multi-part. Liquified natural gas is a cryogenic liquid, held at low temperatures. If released due to flaw or accident, it is both explosive and highly flammable (see Wikipedia for more). In 2004 a facility like this exploded,
”The lesson to take away from Algeria is that it was an event of greater magnitude than anyone expected,” said Bill Powers, chairman of the Border Power Plant Working Group, an organization in San Diego that has protested plans to build L.N.G. plants nearby in northern Mexico. ”That’s why we should not put L.N.G. facilities anywhere near centers of population.”
Placing it in a city on a 100 acre lot in a city that is ill prepared for evacuation seems like madness. New pipelines would need to be constructed to feed natural gas to feed it, requiring digging and disrupting more land for pipeline construction and those pipelines would be their own new hazards. This facility would also increase the traffic of liquified natural gas tanker ships on the Delaware, creating a new explosive hazard on the river as well. And, of course, production of more natural gas will lead to further climate change creating its own harms to all of us.
Even without the direct risk to the community of Chester, this facility would be yet another polluter in a community that already has terrible air (and remember we in Garden City will be downwind). Citing a permit for another proposed facility,
Given the size and operation of the plant, air permits would be required from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Permits for a proposed liquefaction plant in Wyalusing give an indication of the type of emissions expected. The Wyalusing plant, operated by the Bradford County Real Estate Partners, could generate up to 2.44 million metric tonnes of LNG a year, about one-third of the Chester proposal. Its air permit issued by the DEP details emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter.
Based on the levels of emissions in that permit, Clean Air Council’s Alex Bomstein says he expects the Penn America LNG proposal, if it goes forward, would be one of the largest new sources of air pollution in Southeast Pennsylvania.
The project claims that electricity will be used for liquification, not natural gas as is used in other facilities, but the feasibility of that has been called into question. Electrification would result in less localized pollution than burning natural gas, but according to the WHYY article about 10% of the natural gas is typically burned as part of the liquification process. That is a lot of energy to replace with electricity (and would require new electricity infrastructure). Even if it is primarily electricity powered, a significant amount of gas would be flared or leak and pollute the surrounding environment.
Environmentalists are already rallying against this new source of danger and pollution for the already heavily disadvantaged community of Chester. Local environmental group CRQCL is holding its next meeting this coming Thursday.