Proposed Nopetro LNG plant stirs up community discussions, confusion

Advocacy organization aims to challenge federal ruling over proposed Port St. Joe LNG facility

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A Miami-based liquified natural gas company has big plans for the St. Joe Company property located off of U.S. Highway 98 near the Highland View bridge, but with limited public knowledge of the project, some locals have signed onto a legal challenge aiming to ensure federal oversight over the process.

The lawsuit, which has not yet been filed, is organized by D.C. based nonprofit consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen. It confronts a March ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which was upheld again in July, declaring Nopetro LNG LLC’s project exempt from the agency’s jurisdiction.

“When a federal agency issues a decision, if you disagree with aspects of that position, and you think that the agency made legal or other factual errors, you can petition to a federal court to have a federal court review the action,” said Tyson Slocum, the director of Public Citizen’s energy program.

“We have a deadline of September 27 to file a federal lawsuit challenging the approval of the petition by this financial entity called Nopetro LNG.”

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 FREC’s decision regarding Nopetro’s plans in Port St. Joe stems from what the agency said is the project’s variations from the criteria they typically use to establish jurisdiction.

Nopetro’s Port St. Joe facility “would consist of up to three liquefaction trains that would liquify up to 3.86 billion cubic feet per year of natural gas for export,” according to Nopetro’s petition with the FERC.

“Liquified natural gas (LNG) would depart the facility in International Organization for Standardization containers via third-party truck operators and travel roughly a quarter of a mile to a dock owned and operated by the St. Joseph’s Port. At the dock, the ISO containers would be loaded onto ocean-going general cargo container vessels for export and delivery to markets in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.”

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.

But this does not exempt the project from all oversight.

Lacking public knowledge causes concern for some

Nopetro will still have to acquire all required state and local permitting as well as meet the standards of state and local regulatory authorities.

“The city would have to approve, the county would have to approve, the state would have to approve. All those would require public notice and public hearings,” said Jim McKnight, the director of the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition, who also expressed that he was unaware of these discussions taking place at the county level at this time.

“I am not aware of it,” he said, “but that’s not to say that maybe someone else isn’t talking about it.”

State Representative Jason Shoaf said that in conversations with Nopetro’s president and CEO Jorge Herrerra, the company has expressed that working out local agreements is among their next steps.

“What I got from him is that they are more or less in the final stages of working out the local agreements there,” said Shoaf.  “I think they're going to be approaching the city and county sometime soon to work with them. And when that happens, we're gonna know a lot more.”

Shoaf said he reached out to Herrerra for updates after hearing talk about the plant surface within the community, largely surrounding efforts by Public Citizen.

In 2021, Shoaf signed a letter of support for Nopetro’s LNG’s petition for FERC’s declaratory order, citing the large number of jobs he saw the business bringing to the area.

"There's just some groups that are known for pushing back against anything (like this) in the energy sector that are doing what they get paid to do," he said. "But this is, from the onset, been one of many companies that have looked at coming to Port St. Joe."

Despite Public Citizen’s legal challenge to FERC’s ruling, Slocum said his end goal is not to see the project derailed.

“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.”

Slocum and Public Citizen argue that federal regulatory practices offer a fairly large deal of transparency, which he said many residents feel is lacking.

According to Slocum, the lawsuit will name several locals who feel they are directly impacted by FERC’s decision.

“Some of these other folks are going to sign what's known as a declaration, which is super standard for this type of thing that simply says, ‘hey, I live here, or I own property here, or I work in this community, and I am directly impacted by this agency decision to not regulate this proposed LNG facility,’” he said.

However, after waiting more than a year for a ruling from the FREC, Nopetro argued that the delays of the federal process have put them behind schedule.

Nopetro initially requested that the Commission act by no later than July 31, 2021, “to allow Nopetro to reach a final investment decision, secure financing for construction and meet requests for the Project to begin the process of securing necessary permits and/or commence construction activities in late 2021 or the first quarter of 2022,” Jonathan Locke, Nopetro’s president and chief operating officer, wrote in a letter to the FREC just ahead of their March declaratory order.

Locke added that the delays had caused the company a “loss of opportunities to reach customers in Central and South America and the Caribbean,” who he said are in need of energy-saving LNG resources.  

He also added that the delays left Nopetro in uncertain legal territory and that associated costs with delays, including a permit with which they are able to rent the land, had caused the company to consider abandoning the project.

Slocum said increased associated costs and time delays were likely with federal regulation.

“There are costs associated with undergoing a federal environmental impact review,” he said.

Nopetro LNG could not be reached in time for The Star’s  deadline after multiple interview requests.

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