Chester LNG project promises return, despite Biden’s pause and other hurdles

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Prospects for a controversial natural gas liquids export terminal on the Chester waterfront appear in limbo, if not completely dead. President Joe Biden recently put a pause on all pending LNG export terminals. But the Chester project was already derailed before the announcement.

Penn America Energy CEO Franc James told WHYY News that he “pumped the brakes” on the LNG project last summer after a tense public meeting, where then mayoral candidate and now Chester Mayor Stefan Roots opposed the project, saying it could bring more environmental damage to a bankrupt city overburdened by its legacy of industrial pollution.

“We want to get away from our industrial base, particularly with the polluting industry,” Roots said.

Stefan Roots is a Democratic candidate for mayor of Chester City. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Penn America Energy’s website is offline and its phone disconnected. At least one employee wrote on LinkedIn he lost his job last month.

While James said he hasn’t abandoned his plans, he has yet to file any federal permit applications.

But, he reiterated that the project, also known as Penn LNG, is not dead yet. James said Penn America is taking the time to “listen and learn from the recent developments.” He said that while he was surprised by Biden’s action, he believes Penn LNG has set itself apart from other proposals.

“I’m not just referring to the commercial proposition or the return on equity to an investor,” James said. “I’m really referring to a project that was designed from inception to be the cleanest project in the U.S. in terms of carbon emissions, in terms of design and engineering — as well as a project that is dedicated to the revitalization of a community.”

Residents, activists and officials react to Biden’s pause

“This pause on new LNG approvals sees the climate crisis for what it is: The existential threat of our time,” Biden said, while announcing his decision to put a stop to LNG terminals.

WHYY News first reported on plans to build an LNG export terminal on a site in Chester in June 2022. Documents revealed that New York-based Penn America wanted to develop a liquefaction facility on 100 acres along the Chester waterfront with the goal to export seven million metric tonnes of LNG each year across the globe. Community opposition to the multibillion-dollar project was swift and furious. But there were many who were championing the project, including former city and federal officials — some of whom served on the company’s advisory board.

State Rep. Martina White, who chaired the legislative hearings by the Philadelphia LNG Export Task Force last year, bashed Biden’s action.

“This horrible policy decision by the Biden Administration will cost tens of thousands of family-sustaining union jobs, which would have been supported by an LNG export terminal project,” White said in a statement.

  • February 2, 2024
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