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Plan to send LNG trains through Philly to S. Jersey port sparks outrage from residents, environmentalists

By Andrew Maykuth, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Business News

New Fortress has not disclosed potential routes for the LNG, but transportation experts and environmentalists say the most likely rail route would follow Norfolk Southern rail lines from Wyalusing through Allentown, Reading, and then move along the Schuylkill before traversing North Philadelphia and then crossing the Delair Bridge into Pennsauken.

In its filings for a rail permit, New Fortress said it would move several 100-car trains of LNG a day to Gibbstown to continuously fill waiting vessels, or up to 700 tractor-trailer trucks a day. The most direct highway route would follow I-476 through Philadelphia's suburbs and then crossing the Commodore Barry Bridge into New Jersey.

Norfolk Southern, which is the only railroad serving the Wyalusing site, declined to comment on specific routing but said it works closely with local emergency responders to instruct them about hazardous materials.

"We are committed to safe operations, regardless of commodity or route, as we work and travel through Pennsylvania," Jeff DeGraff, a Norfolk Southern spokesperson, said in an email.

LNG is produced by super-cooling natural gas to minus-260 degrees until it turns into a liquid. It must be stored and transported in insulated tanks to keep it liquid . If the Thermos-like tanks leak, LNG can freeze anything it contacts. A greater threat is that the fuel leaks, pools, and turns into vapor. If the flammable natural gas does not ignite immediately, the cloud remains cold and moves at ground level rather than dissipating into the atmosphere.

"If it gets ignited you can have this huge, tall fire which might only last three or four minutes, but it'd be really hot and burn people some ways away," said Fred Millar, a hazardous-materials consultant and safety advocate.

 

"If the cloud moves into a community - oh, you're gonna like this part - then it can get ignited by somebody lighting a cigarette, or starting their car, or just coming into contact with some hot piece of equipment like an auto exhaust pipe," said Millar.

LNG now routinely moves in tanker trucks on highways, but federal hazardous-materials regulations allowed shipments by rail only with special permits. President Donald Trump, aiming to boost domestic energy production, directed the transportation secretary in 2019 to allow for the widespread movement of LNG by rail.

Last December, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) approved a special permit for a New Fortress affiliate, Energy Transport Solutions LLC, to haul LNG by rail from Wyalusing to Gibbstown. In June, the agency published a rule allowing for nationwide rail shipments of the material in special double-lined tank cars, known as DOT-113 tank cars.

PHMSA, which is an arm of the transportation agency, said that the DOT113 railcars had a "demonstrated safety record" for more than three decades to transport super-cooled, or cryogenic liquids, including ethylene, which has similar flammable characteristics as LNG.

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