Group protests at Port of San Juan LNG facility
By The Star Staff
A group of protesters gathered Monday to demand the shutdown of a liquified natural gas (LNG) handling facility on an approximately 6.1-acre plot of land at Wharves A and B of the Port of San Juan that was built by New Fortress Energy (NFE).
The protest took place weeks after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decided to intervene.
“It is incredible that the FERC finally admits what the communities have been saying for years, and not only does it not impose a fine, but authorizes [the NFE facility] to continue operating without having previously evaluated the risk that the operation represents for the communities,” said Myrna Conty, a spokesperson for the Renewable Energy Now Alliance. “It is as if the life and safety of the communities were secondary. They violate laws and regulations with impunity and nothing happens. It seems that law and order does not apply to them.”
More than a year ago several religious groups had notified the FERC of community fears that an accident could occur and that they had not been consulted about the project.
“We don’t want another CAPECO,” said Lissie Avilés Ríos, from the Community of Dominican Sisters of the Holy Cross in Cataño.
She was talking about a fire that began with an explosion on Oct. 23, 2009 at the Caribbean Petroleum Corp. (CAPECO) oil refinery in Bayamón, and was extinguished on Oct. 25.
“It is worth adding that the ships that come to bring gas to the terminal enter through the Bay of San Juan and pass very close to communities and the tourism docks of San Juan,” Avilés Ríos said.
Conty said that besides lacking permits from federal authorities, the facility does not have a location consultation permit despite having the approval of agencies that are supposed to protect communities. She also said the facility lacks an environmental impact statement and safety studies.
“If an accident occurs, as has happened in other places, it could be tragic,” Conty said. “It seems like a sham for the FERC to give New Fortress 120 days to request permission. Does anyone believe that they are not going to be approved, regardless of the quality of the application?”
As it did in San Juan, documents show that NFE tried without success in the past in Pennsylvania and in Miami to disclaim the FERC’s jurisdiction over LNG projects.
The company had sought a ruling that FERC lacked jurisdiction over the San Juan facility, arguing that it does not get natural gas or deliver regasified LNG through a pipeline; that it is not located at the point of import or export such that LNG is directly transferred to or from oceangoing, bulk-carrier LNG tankers; and that it does not have sufficient physical elements to constitute natural gas facilities as commonly understood by the FERC. But the federal regulator ruled on March 19 that it does have oversight.
The FERC allowed the project to continue to operate if NFE files the required permits. It also allowed intervenors, such as environmental groups, to provide input.
Jordan Luebkemann, an associate attorney for Earthjustice, said NFE had sought to have the FERC disclaim jurisdiction over a project to transport LNG from northeastern Pennsylvania to a port on the Delaware River in New Jersey using rail cars. NFE obtained state permits from the proposal and then tried to disclaim the FERC’s jurisdiction.
In Florida, a December 2020 letter shows that the FERC confirmed that it had no records of an LNG facility in Miami, including an order to show cause about that facility in response to a request from the WWALS Watershed Coalition. The facility is also an NFE project.
“It appears to be a pattern of behavior asking for forgiveness instead of permission,” Luebkemann said.
Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority governing board member Tomás Torres expressed concern at a meeting last week about the repercussions to the power utility if the FERC denies the permit.