Environmental groups file lawsuit against gas project

By John McPhaul

The Sierra Club of Puerto Rico, community groups from the Sabana neighborhood in Guaynabo and El Puente: Enlace Latino de Acción Climática, announced Wednesday that they have filed a lawsuit against methane gas import company New Fortress for allegedly operating a plant without an environmental review.

Since last year, the groups said, they “have raised the alarm about the development of a highly volatile liquefied methane gas import dock, also known as liquefied natural gas, in the Bay of San Juan.”

“The New Fortress company began to create this infrastructure at docks A, B and C of the bay without environmental reviews, without risk studies and without informing the surrounding communities,” the organizations said.

The plaintiffs are seeking to stop the importation of methane gas and the operations New Fortress in the San Juan Bay, the groups said in a written statement.

The allegations of the Sierra Club of Puerto Rico and community groups include evidence that New Fortress built and operates the gas project without having a location inquiry or an environmental impact statement. The company has recognized, meanwhile, that there are risks of accidents, spills, explosions and fires in its gas project, the plaintiffs point out. The lawsuit presents evidence that the company violated due process of law and the communities did not receive any notification or have access to a public hearing process.

Methane gas, also known as natural gas, is a fossil fuel that is not extracted in Puerto Rico and, like oil, is tied to a market with economic fluctuations.

“The liquefied methane gas import docks are dangerous and incendiary,” the Sierra Club said. “A leak or explosion in the event of an accident creates highly dangerous clouds due to fires and explosions, both in the vicinity of the accident and at considerable distances where the volatile cloud travels, which can be transported by winds and other conditions.”

The gas infrastructure includes the transit and import of methane gas tankers, storage of ships anchored in the bay, and unloading and processing of fossil fuel. Those processes inherently carry risks of accidents and polluting effects, added the Sierra Club.

The company stores fuel in floating tanks in San Juan Bay “without any risk assessment,” the Sierra Club said. Close to this infrastructure are docks A, B and C located in the residential area of Barrio de Sabana de Guaynabo.

In addition, the San Juan generating plant of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is located nearby, which includes fuel tanks and several docks that receive flammable substances that “should an escape or explosion occur, the damage would be catastrophic,” the Sierra Club said.

“In these times of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the respiratory health of the people cannot be compromised, the company New Fortress intends to emit Volatile Organic Compounds that impact the lungs and a minimum of 67,000 tons per year of greenhouse gases,” the environmental organization charged.

“The court is asked to stop the New Fortress [NF] operation because it is illegal and because it does not have all the necessary authorizations to locate and build the methane gas terminal,” said Omar Saade, who presented the case before the court. “These clearances that NF ignored are intended to protect the health and safety of those who reside around the plant. New Fortress did not obtain a Location Consultation, despite the fact that it was required before locating, and building, also ignoring the notification and required participation of the affected parties in this process, especially the communities and residential areas near New Fortress operations. The quasi-automatic permits that were granted for the construction of the gas terminal must be declared null and void, and the lease contract, which compromised the location and use of the piers and the exposure to risks that residents continuously suffer, should also be invalidated.”

The claimant entities support the Queremos Sol energy proposal, which seeks to ensure a future free of fossil fuels in which the island relies on sun-based energy and the health of the communities is ensured.

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