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Proposed gas port off Jones Beach worries LI opponents

This is an artist rendering. Liberty Natural Gas

This is an artist rendering. Liberty Natural Gas has submitted a plan to set up a natural gas transfer port off Jones Beach and supply the downstate region with natural gas from overseas. (May 2, 2013) Credit: Liberty Natural Gas

A natural gas transfer port has been proposed for ocean waters about 19 miles south of Jones Beach -- a concept that failed to win support in New Jersey and now has Long Island and environmental leaders fuming.

Liberty Natural Gas, part of an investment fund based in the Cayman Islands, wants to supply the downstate region with natural gas that tankers would bring from overseas, primarily the Caribbean, according to the "Port Ambrose" project submitted in September for approval by the U.S. Maritime Administration and the Coast Guard. Company officials hope to install the system in 2015 in nine months.

While opponents warn of potential explosive accidents in high-traffic ship lanes, the company's president said the system is safe and only eight to 10 deliveries will be made each year.

"The Port Ambrose project is a small-scale delivery project designed to provide additional natural gas supplies to the Brooklyn and Long Island area during the winter and summer months, which are the periods of peak demand," CEO and president Roger Whelan said in an email. "New York in winter months experiences price spikes that are 10 times the national average for natural gas. The project is designed to alleviate the price spikes."

But opponents, from South Shore community leaders to environmental groups, have several worries, among them the reliance on natural gas, a fossil fuel; its location near two of the nation's busiest ports, New York and New Jersey; and accidents in bad weather.

"Can you imagine if that was there when we had hurricane Sandy?" said Claudia Borecky, president of the North and Central Merrick Civic Association. "If there would have been an explosion, what would that have done to Long Beach?"

The company last year withdrew its application for a similar transfer port off Asbury Park, N.J., after Gov. Chris Christie's environmental concerns helped kill it.

Whelan said it will have "minimal" environmental impacts, using the latest technologies to improve safety.

In the Port Ambrose plan, two loading buoys would rise from the ocean floor to hook up to the tanker. The vessels would deliver liquefied natural gas and turn it into a gaseous state to pump into one of two, 2-mile pipelines that connect to a 22-mile main pipeline. This main would link up to an existing natural gas pipeline system that serves Long Island and New York City.

Opponents of fracking, a controversial way of breaking up rock to get buried natural gas, fear the company's true intention is to export natural gas from upstate and elsewhere, which Whelan denies.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has not closed the door on upstate fracking, and overseas, the price and demand for natural gas has risen, while domestically, prices have generally slid in the past few years.

"With more . . . [liquefied natural gas] LNG facilities, you're going to have more fracking," said Jim Brown, president of the South Shore Audubon Society. "It's just an unnecessary industrialization of our coastline."

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