Is a liquified natural gas plant at Port St. Joe a good thing or not?

I attended the public meeting on June 23 conducted by the Gulf County Citizens’ Coalition for a Healthy Future to learn about situating a LNG processing and export plant in Port St. Joe. 

I hoped to hear both pros and cons on the subject, but unfortunately, not one public official attended. I took what was said at the Coalition meeting and added in my own research, hoping to clarify things in my mind and yours.

First, I learned what the process of liquifying natural gas means. In short, the gas obtained from St. Joe Natural Gas will be piped to the old paper mill site near our port facility. Then it will be chilled by a company called Nopetro to -260℉ and impurities removed by “flaring.” This combination of processes creates an 85% to 95% pure liquid methane product (LNG) which is clean-burning for the end user. Unfortunately, the procedure is not so clean for those of us on the processing end. Excess methane and refrigerant gasses are burnt off in these giant flares which are going whenever the plant is in operation. Carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen sulfide (stinky gas), and carbon particles are also released into the atmosphere. Soot, smog, and asthma attacks for some people may result. Benzene can also be released, which is known to cause cancer and nervous system injury.

Along with health concerns during all the burning and venting, there is the fact that the shipping channel in our bay will have to be dredged at least 11 feet deeper. This dredging will include the contaminated sludge that was dumped for decades by St. Joe Paper Mill. All of that mess goes, you guessed it, right behind Highland View. They can’t get a break, can they? No one knows what toxins are in the muck they will be shoving back there. 

But the risk doesn’t end with just some toxic wastes and gasses. While LNG itself is not flammable, the vapors it emits are. As are other byproducts associated with LNG processing, such as propane and ethane, which are heavier than air and can travel and pool in low-lying areas. Still, I figure they have all the safety standards well worked out in the industry, right? 

It doesn’t take much searching to find this isn’t exactly true. I’ll just mention two that caught my eye. In Plymouth, Washington, a LNG storage plant had an explosion in 2014 that propelled a 2000-pound piece of metal a quarter of a mile away. A two-mile radius had to be evacuated. And just last year, in June of 2022, an explosion in the Freeport, Texas, LNG plant caused a 450-foot-high fireball. That facility was sanely located on a non-inhabited part of an island, not the heart of a community where hundreds could be in a thermal blast zone. We have no paid firefighters and no siren warning system. And while hurricane evacuations are bad enough, imagine trying to get people out of this town in mere minutes in the event of an LNG emergency.

Speaking of hurricanes, what happens to an LNG plant if another Michael comes? Well, I was told at the meeting that they will have barriers built against storm surge. Unfortunately, that could direct flood waters to our only grocery store and brand-new marina. Alternatively, it could force salt water far up the Intracoastal Canal, contaminating freshwater ecosystems. Windmark beaches might also be more seriously impacted than they would otherwise have been. There is also the concern about all the stored LNG waiting to be taken aboard ships. Do they leave it to the coming storm? 

Luckily, because of the weird design of the plant, the storage containers are capable of being trucked elsewhere. In fact, all of the LNG will normally be trucked 1300 feet from the processing site to the ships at the port, where cranes will load it onto the decks. There is no planned pipeline to load the LNG directly into the usual, highly-modified seagoing transport vessels.

So while we are evacuating people from a coming storm, Nopetro may be “evacuating” its LNG by 18-wheel trucks on the same two-lane roads. Additionally, we learned that if the port facility or loading equipment is unavailable at any time, the LNG can be trucked to Panama City, Pensacola, Mobile or Jacksonville to load on ships at their ports.

So why are they making liquid natural gas, sticking it into truck-size pressurized containers, driving it less than a quarter of a mile, and then transferring the container to a ship? Wouldn’t it be easier to extend the pipeline 1300 feet to the boat like it is done everywhere else? The only explanation seems to be to avoid the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) jurisdiction. This little dance with the trucks removes Nopetro from a process that would otherwise require up to three years of substantial environmental, economic, and social impact studies, and serious public input. 

But surely our elected officials wouldn’t put up with such a ploy? Well, elected official number one is Jason Shoaf, who is also the vice president of St. Joe Natural Gas. (His father is president, and his family’s trust owns the company.) At the meeting, we viewed a letter from him on official Florida State House of Representatives stationary to FERC asking for an exemption of oversight for Nopetro. And he neglected to tell FERC he was on the gas company’s payroll or had any conflict of interest. 

But he isn’t alone in the rush to get this done without government studies or public input. The Gulf Board of County Commissioners voted 5-0 to send a letter to St. Joe Company (who still owns the paper mill site) in support of Nopetro’s plans. This is despite the fact that Nopetro had not provided the Commission with the requested description, pictures, site plan, or application. The Gulf County Economic Development Coalition also voted to endorse Nopetro. Their letter stated, “they had no environmental concerns or worries that this facility would detract from the community landscape.” Again, this support was offered without Nopetro providing any studies or plans. 

Congressman Neal Dunn and Senators Rubio and Scott have meanwhile co-sponsored bills entitled The Small Scale LNG Access Act, which requires FERC “to approve applications without modification or delay.” If these bills pass, and we get FERC oversight for the plant, it might not be the previous vigorous process.

But we need the jobs, right? Michael Hammond, Gulf County administrator, claimed at the commissioners’ meeting in September of 2022 that hundreds of good-paying jobs for our kids would be created. Yet, we viewed an email at the public meeting between him and Jim McKnight, the head of the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition. In that email, McKnight tells Hammond that Nopetro said only 12 permanent jobs would be created in phase one of the plant. (Presumably, that means 36 jobs when all three phases are in place?)

There are other proposals in the Port Master Plan of 2021 to add other industries to the port area. If this plan is enacted in full, our current retirement and tourist town will be transformed back into a city with industry at its core. 

You have two choices. Either sign the petition to stop the LNG plant, make your feelings known to your elected officials regarding such industries, work to elect candidates who will represent your interests not theirs, OR say goodbye to the Forgotten Coast as we know it.

D. J. Mays

Port St. Joe

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor


  1. Thank you for your concise information of the June 23, 2023 meeting, in Port St. Joe. Please let use know where to sign the petition to stop the LNG plant.

    Thank you for caring about our community and the people that live here.

    Donna Murray
    Indian Pass

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