A Thursday hearing of the state’s Philadelphia Liquid Natural Gas Export Task Force saw industry experts argue for the construction of a natural gas terminal at the Port of Philadelphia, with one advocate claiming natural gas is “necessary to power the economies of the world” as more and more countries move toward renewables.
The Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus said on its website the hearing was meant to “receive testimony from various stakeholders regarding safety and security considerations for a potential liquefied natural gas export terminal in or around the Port of Philadelphia.”
David Cuff, a captain with the Pilots’ Association For the Bay And River Delaware, whose organization is “responsible for the safe navigation of commercial vessels on the Delaware River and Bay and its tributaries,” told the panel ships transporting liquid natural gas to the Philadelphia port would pose no special safety challenges.
“We treat every ship and handle every ship the same,” he said. “We bring ships into the port of Philadelphia with 12,000 containers on them. We’re not told what’s on those containers. What we care about is if the ship is safe and handles well.”
Cuff suggested there was little reason to be concerned about traffic volume surrounding a new LNG terminal.
“Speaking to the pilots and the Coast Guard in sector Maryland with Cove Point, it does not disrupt any traffic down there,” he said.
“This is stuff that we’re all learning,” he added. “But it does not disrupt any flow coming in and out of Norfolk or the Port of Baltimore.”
Lisa Himber, president of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay, told the panel the terminal’s economic benefits could be hugely impactful for the surrounding region. She pointed to the Port of Philadelphia’s already-outsized effect on employment.
“An exchange study from 2021 found that over 156,000 jobs depend upon the regional port, and over 50,000 of those are directly related,” she said.
“The foremost benefit [of the LNG terminal] from our perspective must be the economic impact,” she noted.
The task force was created last November by outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf. Talks of an LNG facility in or near Philadelphia have been in the works for years.
Former Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who left Congress earlier this year and now serves on the leadership council of the pro-gas group Natural Allies, argued that natural gas can help with “defeating global coal use, increasing American competitiveness in the world, enhancing our global security and ultimately driving down global carbon emissions.”
“In the absence of natural gas, the world burns dirtier forms of energy, primarily coal,” Ryan argued.
“Unless decision makers are willing to advance permitting reforms and approve the infrastructure necessary to move natural gas where it’s needed,” he said, then it will be “nearly impossible to achieve our global climate goals.”
Ryan pointed to recent energy shockwaves in Europe, where officials were reduced to “restarting mothballed coal plants to keep the lights on following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s also true here at home where regions like New England have faced natural gas shortages each winter after years of political posture and blocking new natural gas pipeline expansions.
“Pennsylvania sits at the edge of one of the largest natural gas supplies in the world,” Ryan pointed out, “making it a huge economic benefit to capitalize on LNG potential.”
He argued natural gas is “necessary to power the economies of the world as we scale up renewables.”
Not all attendees were supportive of the terminal proposal. Adam Nagel, the campaign manager for the clean energy nonprofit Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, said his organization has “actively opposed the expansion of LNG facilities” in the state “through advocacy and litigation.”
Nagel argued that there was an “inherent danger in the installation and operation of an export terminal in the Port of Philadelphia.” He said that an accident at a gas terminal could pose critical risks to communities surrounding the Philadelphia port.
“Serious concerns exist with the city of Philadelphia’s ability to manage crises,” Nagel said, pointing to the recent spillage of toxic chemicals in nearby Bucks County.
State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) asked Ryan how he would respond to Nagel’s claims about the risks of transporting and storing natural gas.
“We’ve been exporting [LNG],” Ryan responded. “It’s on the seas; it’s safe, it’s reliable. No major catastrophes have happened. This is just something that we need to continue to do.”
Nagel admitted his organization would still oppose the terminal even if safety concerns were addressed. “There’s still the question of environmental safety and security and public health, safety and security,” he said.
“From a public health and environmental health, safety, and security standpoint, I do not believe we could ever get to a place where we would support such a terminal in the Port of Philadelphia,” he said.
Dustin Meyer, the vice president of natural gas markets at the American Petroleum Institute, echoed Tim Ryan’s earlier suggestion that natural gas is only one way an economy should be powered.
State Rep. Joe Hohenstesin asked Meyer whether regulators should “take it on faith and trust that the natural gas industry is going to also see itself as the bridge fuel to renewables.” Meyer countered that the natural gas industry “would never suggest that natural gas needs to be or should be a hundred percent of electricity generation.
“I think most people would agree is that the electricity generation portfolio of any given region or state or country is going to be much more diverse 10 years from now, 20 years from now than what it is today,” he said.