Advocacy Groups Welcome FERC Order Regarding New Fortress Energy Site
Company Must File for Application to Operate LNG Terminal at San Juan Port Supplying Prepa
SAN JUAN – Renewable energy advocacy and community groups applauded a recent determination by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that the New Fortress Energy’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal at the Port of San Juan was built and currently operates without complying with the federal Natural Gas Act (NGA).
In a March 19 “order on show cause,” FERC found that the LNG handling facility is subject to the commission’s jurisdiction under section 3 of the NGA and ordered New Fortress Energy to “file an application for authorization to operate the facility within 180 days of this order.” The federal regulator also determined that it was “in the public interest” for the facility to continue operating during the pendency of the authorization.
The FERC determination was the latest development in a process that began last June 18, when the regulator ordered New Fortress Energy to show cause on why the LNG handling facility in San Juan Harbor is not subject to the commission’s jurisdiction. The energy multinational filed a response on July 20, arguing that FERC had no jurisdiction over the terminal because it “does not have sufficient physical elements to constitute natural gas facilities as commonly understood by the Commission and the regulated community,” among other reasons.
Alianza de Energía Renovable Ahora (AERA), a renewable energy group constituted by community and environmental groups in Puerto Rico, issued a press release welcoming the FERC decision and stressing that the regulator responds to “multiple claims and actions from the communities near the unauthorized New Fortress Terminal, as well as Puerto Rican religious, environmental, and civil groups.”
The press release says that “the organizations that make up AERA and other entities warned the federal entity about the danger posed by the highly explosive and polluting New Fortress LNG Terminal.”
New Fortress Energy, through its subsidiary, NFEnergía LLC, constructed and operates the LNG handling facility on an approximately 6.1-acre plot of land at San Juan Port wharves A and B. The multinational company describes the facility in its July 20 response to FERC as “a multi-use fuel handling berth” and states that the location at San Juan Harbor was chosen because it has “long been used to deliver fuels into Puerto Rico and that will continue to receive various fuels in the future.”
The facility was built to supply methane gas to units 5 and 6 of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (Prepa) power plant in Puerto Nuevo and to private companies.
“In addition, New Fortress built the terminal without complying with the requirement to prepare a location consultation and with no opportunity for nearby communities and affected groups to participate in public hearings,” AERA said in the press release.
“We feel some relief to know that at last we are going to begin to intervene with this situation that worries us because we do not want another accident to occur like Capeco or Humberto Vidal,” Sary N. Rosario, a resident of Puerto Nuevo Norte, near the LNG facility, said in the press release.
Fear of Explosions
Rosario referred to the massive explosion that ripped through the Caribbean Petroleum Corporation (CAPECO) oil refinery and oil depot in Bayamón on Oct. 23, 2009, as well as to the gas explosion at the Humberto Vidal shoe store in Río Piedras on Nov. 21, 1996 that killed 33 people and wounded 69 others.
“You cannot wait for a tragedy to occur and then take action. All lives are precious, and people deserve to feel safe where they reside,” she said, stressing that the volatility of methane gas exposes vulnerable communities to explosion accident risks, as the closest residences to the New Fortress terminal are approximately 400 meters away from this facility.
Similarly, the burning of methane gas causes respiratory problems, including asthma, among other adverse effects on the health of residents, which is especially dangerous in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rosario said.
The AERA organizations and different sectors of the country have voiced their concerns regarding the health and safety risks that this operation represents, especially for the communities of Sabana, Amelia and Vietnam in Guaynabo, and for the Borinquen and Puerto Nuevo Norte neighborhoods of San Juan.
“People who live near this terminal have legitimate concerns regarding their life and health,” said Rosario. “This is a matter of eco-justice for the communities and also of climate justice, since the burning of fossil fuels such as methane gas contributes to the dire consequences of the climate crisis.”
AERA as well as Hermandad Pastoral de Puerto Nuevo, which includes church pastors from these communities, requested FERC’s intervention in this case. The organizations that make up AERA include CAMBIO Puerto Rico, Sierra Club Puerto Rico, Comité Diálogo Ambiental, Earthjustice, El Puente – Enlace Latino de Acción Climática, Campamento Contra las Cenizas en Peñuelas, Amigos del Río Guaynabo, Coalición de Organizaciones Anti-Incineración, Comité Yabucoeño Pro-Calidad de Vida (YUCAE), Alianza Comunitaria Ambientalista del Sureste (ACASE), and Mayagüezanos por la Salud y el Ambiente.
Felipe Lozada Montañez, Bishop Emeritus of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Puerto Rico, indicated that “defending life is our main goal, and a fundamental part of that is defending the environment, which is part of creation.”
The AERA press, which said that New Fortress is also under legislative investigation for the “irregularities” involving the construction and operation of the $1.5 billion terminal, affirmed its support of a proposal by the Queremos Sol renewable energy advocacy group to “install rooftop photovoltaic systems on houses and commercial properties, as the main alternative for generating electricity in Puerto Rico.”
These organizations, described as NGOs, or non-governmental organizations in the FERC order, had argued that the regulator should immediately order a halt to the New Fortress Energy operation until a final determination is made They contend that by not seeking authorization prior to construction, the company is evading environmental review.
FERC overruled the request, saying that the New Fortress Energy facility “supplies cleaner burning natural gas” to the San Juan power plant. The regulator affirmed that the U.S. Coast Guard oversaw the design, construction, and implementation of the marine cargo transfer systems, which included waterway suitability assessments and onshore operational assessments.
“In addition to the U.S. Coast Guard’s review, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates the facility under a nationwide permit, which required consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. Further, multiple territorial permits and requirements apply to the design, construction, and operation of the facility and included an environmental review by Puerto Rican agencies,” FERC said in the 27-page order issued on March 19. “Under these circumstances, we find that allowing operation of the facilities to continue during the pendency of an application is in the public interest.”