The Gulf County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to send a letter to the St Joe Company in support of a proposed liquified natural gas plant at their regular session meeting on September 27.
The plant, which is planned to be built by Miami-based Nopetro LNG on land owned by the St. Joe Company off of U.S. Highway 98 near the Highland View bridge, has been a source of confusion for some members of the community, largely due to lacking public information.
But County Administrator Michael Hammond, addressing the plant for the first time in a public county meeting, voiced his support for the project, citing the large number of jobs it was likely to bring to the area and the potential tax base the plant has.
“It’s still in the early stages, but we want jobs, we want industry, and we want tax base, and I think this solves all of those three problems,” he told the board.
Hammond explained that while the county’s knowledge of this specific LNG plant was relatively recent, it was not the first time they had been approached about an LNG facility on the St. Joe Company’s piece of land.
“I want to say about five years ago we met with the St. Joe company and had a long discussion about the potential to bring a large LNG plant… to Gulf County there on the mill site or on the cana,” said Hammond. “Discussions went way up in the state government, and it was decided that that would be a great thing to do.”
“The negative was that once you get to a certain size and once you get to a certain containership and whatnot, you have to go through this long process through the Department of Energy and an agency called FERC, and (they decided) that it would be better to go with a smaller type footprint plant.”
Hammond went on to explain that over the years, talk about the proposed LNG plant had died down at the county level until discussions recently surfaced about the Nopetro plant, which is far smaller than the initial proposed LNG facility.
He emphasized that the county had not been heavily involved up to this point.
“Again, this is not our project. This is the St. Joe Company’s project,” Hammond said. “So I recommend this letter that supports this project. And then when it comes time, whatever company or entity they use, then they need to have public meetings to explain that this is a safe deal.”
A March ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which was upheld again in July, declared Nopetro LNG LLC’s project exempt from the agency’s jurisdiction.
The federal commission does typically exercise regulatory authority over LNG facilities under the Natural Gas Act.
But as the commission argued in its ruling, this authority is typically determined using three criteria — whether the facility is dedicated to the import or export of LNG, whether the facility is located near a point of import or export, and whether the facility will utilize pipelines (particularly interstate pipelines).
The agency determined that the Port St. Joe facility did not properly meet these metrics.
This caught the attention of Public Citizen, a D.C. Based consumer advocacy nonprofit organization, who argues that there is lacking transparency in this process.
On September 27, Public Citizen filed a lawsuit with a court of appeals challenging FERC’s decision.
Several dozen Port St. Joe locals have signed their names to the lawsuit, which aims to ensure federal regulation over the proposed plant, which Public Citizen’s Energy Program Director Tyson Slocum claims will increase transparency.
“Our goal here is not to stop this facility,” he said. “Our goal is simply to say that this is a major fossil fuel infrastructure development for Port St. Joe, and we believe that FERC erred in deciding that this proposed natural gas facility is not subject to FERC jurisdiction.”
Liquefied natural gas is natural gas that has been cooled down to liquid form for ease and safety of non-pressurized storage or transport. It takes up about 1/600th the volume of natural gas in the gaseous state.
LNG produces 40% less carbon dioxide than coal and 30% less than oil, which makes it the cleanest of the fossil fuels.
“The wave of the future, and again, this is the wave of the future for our lifetime and probably a couple lifetimes, is natural gas,” said Hammond.
Chairman of the BOCC Sandy Quinn emphasized that next steps in the process should include public meetings or workshops with relevant experts who could disseminate more details about the project.
“If we can get the people here to give us some information about it being positive and how it’s not dirty, then I don’t see why we shouldn’t move forward with it,” Quinn said. “But if it is going to be a hazard to the community, then yes, then we shouldn’t move forward, and I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be supporting it.”
The Star has been unable to reach Nopetro after multiple requests for interview.