Public hearings are scheduled for January in New York and New Jersey on Liberty Natural Gas' controversial proposed Port Ambrose facility for importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) 30 miles off the Jersey Coast. 

Offshore natural gas drilling (Albatross via Getty Images)

The U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) recently released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), beginning a 60-day public review and comment period.

The project was rejected in 2010, but the utility has since modified its initial proposal to address concerns, according to Roger Whelan, the company's CEO and president.

In an effort to block the Port Ambrose facility, 129 environmental advocacy groups from New York and New Jersey have joined hands to form the Anti-LNG Coalition.  The coalition is led by Clean Ocean Action (COA), and is comprised of community groups, maritime organizations and faith-based, union and civic leaders that have worked for years to oppose several projects for offshore LNG facilities.

Environmentalists opposed to the project have criticized the timing of the DEIS, which is 1,800 pages

"It's a typical Grinch-like tactic," said Cindy Zipf, executive director of COA, pointing out it will be difficult to rally people spending time with family for the holidays to attend the hearings on Jan. 7 in New York and Jan. 8 in New Jersey.

The Anti-LNG Coalition claims the Port Ambrose project would attract terrorists and threaten fishing, jobs and tourism. The coalition also fears the project could mark the return of ocean industrialization and be a disaster for our climate.

"That area that they're proposing to put these giant tankers is where the wave heights get over 20 feet in a good Nor'easter and they were over 30 feet during Superstorm Sandy," Zipf said. "You're talking about bringing in these liquefied natural gas tankers that are extremely explosive right at the door step of the New York-New Jersey harbor area, the most densely populated, urbanized area in America."

Whelan argued Liberty Natural Gas is proposing standard commerce.

"It's a single vessel coming in to deliver much-needed natural gas during the winter months when winter prices skyrocket in New York and New Jersey," said Whelan. "There is a chronic need for a natural gas supply into the region in this winter period, and it was evidenced by the polar vortex which was extreme in its pressure put on both the power grid and the natural gas supply system in the central New Jersey and urban New York area."

In disputing claims by the Anti-LNG Coalition, Whelan also noted the two-year DEIS has the backing of several federal and state agencies.

"There is no sustainable negative impact on the environment. There is no security risk posed by the project. They're recommendation going forward will be that the project receive its permit," Whelan said.

Once final review of the project is completed in March or April by (MARAD), Whelan said both governor's of New York and New Jersey will be given complete files. He also pointed out the project does not need any permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, but Gov. Chris Christie still has veto power.

The New York public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. at the JFK Hilton in Jamaica.  The New Jersey public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 8 at 6pm at the Eatontown Sheraton in Eatontown.

Details of the project can be viewed at portambrose.com.