State poised to lift ban on LNG storage sites

State poised to lift ban on LNG storage sites

New York is poised to allow new storage facilities for liquefied natural gas for the first time since the 1970s.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration on Wednesday is set to announce it will finalize regulations that will allow new liquefied natural gas — or LNG — storage centers outside New York City, capping the total amount that can be stored at 70,000 gallons per facility.

The trucking industry and business groups had been pushing the state to allow new LNG facilities, arguing trucking fleets that use the fuel didn’t have a place to fill up in New York.

“New York’s new regulations provide the most comprehensive program to safely site, build and operate LNG facilities in the country,” state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens said in a statement obtained by Gannett’s Albany Bureau.

The state had first placed a moratorium on new LNG facilities in 1976, three years after a deadly explosion on Staten Island killed 40 workers. In 1999, the state Legislature formally lifted the moratorium, but left it up to the DEC to create a system for siting new facilities.

The DEC first proposed a set of regulations in 2013, but they were roundly criticized by opponents of hydraulic fracturing, the controversial technique used to help extract natural gas from underground shale formations.

The agency updated the proposals last year, adding the 70,000-gallon limit as a way to try to limit the facilities to fueling stations and not larger storage centers. And last month, Cuomo’s administration revealed its plan to ban high-volume fracking, which garnered major praise from anti-fracking groups.

The proposed rules drew strong interest from the public, generated largely by public commenting drives organized by anti-fracking groups. In all, the DEC received about 57,000 submissions during its public-comment sessions on the proposals, though many were form letters or petitions.

Russ Haven, legislative counsel for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the storage cap is a welcomed change. But the state’s regulations leave open the possibility of lifting or removing the cap in the future, which he said is concerning.

“The good news is the 70,000-gallon cap means the potential for environmental or other kinds of risks is diminished by virtue of capping the size,” Haven said. “The problem is they indicate that it may well be removed in the future.”

Any move the state makes toward increasing its use of natural gas is welcomed, said Karen Moreau, president of the New York State Petroleum Council, an industry trade group that has kept open the possibility of taking legal action to challenge the Cuomo administration’s plans for a fracking ban.

“Storage is a very big issue and there are record amounts of natural gas being produced,” Moreau said. “It’s important we have the infrastructure in place to store it.”

The LNG issue is separate from a proposed facility near Watkins Glen in Schuyler County, which would store liquefied petroleum gas, which is largely propane-based, in salt caverns. That facility, which has spurred protests that have led to a number of arrests, is still under review by the DEC.

Cuomo’s administration is set to announce the LNG regulations at a legislative hearing on his $142 billion budget proposal Wednesday.

What shape the hearing will take was still up in the air as of Tuesday evening, when Assembly Democrats were huddled behind closed doors for the second consecutive day discussing the future of Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who was arrested last week on corruption charges.

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