Viewpoint: Will denial of a rail permit to haul LNG through Philadelphia kill the project?

Energy Transport Solutions was denied a special permit renewal to haul liquified natural gas (LNG) by rail through a populated portion of eastern Pennsylvania.

Viewpoint: Will denial of a rail permit to haul LNG through Philadelphia kill the project?

Energy Transport Solutions was denied a renewal of a special permit by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on April 24, to haul liquified gas (LNG), via rail, through a heavily populated area in eastern Pennsylvania. Energy Transport Solutions is looking to transport LNG to Gibbstown in New Jersey from a proposed LNG liquefaction facility in Wyalusing in Pennsylvania. Energy Transport Solutions must address this issue.

LNG is a pressurized form of natural gas that's produced by the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. The LNG that is released in a derailment can be explosive and highly flammable. This could cause a disaster for people, property, and the environment.

Gibbstown, the port where LNG would be shipped overseas, is located on the Delaware River directly south of the Philadelphia International Airport. Norfolk Southern operates a portion of this 255-mile rail route that would take these 100-car trains through Philadelphia or Trenton in New Jersey. This journey would be made by one to two unit trains every day. Derailments that cause a breach in the railcars and ignite the LNG can have catastrophic consequences.

In 2021, there were more than 1,000 train derailments. Most derailments do not affect people or the environment in the same way as the Norfolk Southern train derailment which occurred on February 3 in East Palestine, Ohio.

PHMSA's refusal to renew the special permit was the correct thing to do, given the frequency with which derailments occur. You don't risk it when the risk is low but the outcome of a derailment can be disastrous.

The risk of a disaster is also present when shipping LNG by tanker truck over the road from Wyalusing, to Gibbstown. The 174-mile trip would require between 300 and 400 tank trucks to be shipped each day, which would place a heavy burden on the local communities. A tanker truck accident can release flammable and explosive LNG, similar to a train derailment.

What is the benefit of shipping LNG to Gibbstown? Exports are certainly good for the U.S. trade balance. Construction jobs are created by the construction of Wyalusing's liquefaction plant. The liquefaction facility, the transport of LNG and the operation of the export terminal would create a small number permanent jobs. However, the risks of an accident are far greater than any benefits.

Is it possible to transport LNG safely from Wyalusing, to Gibbstown? Yes, by pipeline. This would be a massive investment that could take many years to complete and might not be financially feasible. Environmental groups would challenge the permits and they might not be granted.

Energy Transfer, another pipeline company, also did not stand out from the rest of the industry when it "accepted criminal responsibility" for multiple violations of environmental regulations while building the Mariner East Pipeline through southeast Pennsylvania. Environmentalists would use Energy Transfer's poor management to oppose any new pipeline construction.

According to the Fraser Institute, an independent Canadian think-tank, rail transport is responsible for 4,5 times more accidents than pipeline transport. The people who are against building pipelines in America don't understand how important they are to our economy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration there are approximately three million miles in natural gas pipelines across the country.

What will the outcome of this Energy Transport Solutions Project be? The time will tell. Ian Jefferies CEO of the American Association of Railroads said, "Even one incident could have a dramatic effect on a community. As an industry that operates in communities across the country, this responsibility is taken very seriously." I hope that all those involved in the project, no matter what mode of transportation they use, feel the same way.