Public Citizen News / September-October 2023
By Patrick Davis
This article appeared in the September/October 2023 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.
Nopetro Energy, the company behind a controversial liquified natural gas export facility in Port St. Joe, Fla., announced in July it would “no longer pursue the opportunity due to market conditions.” This announcement marked a major victory for the citizens of Port St. Joe who worked tirelessly to stop this project, and for Public Citizen, which lobbied federal regulators, pursued legal action, and supported the efforts of local community activists to stop it.
Nopetro’s decision to end the project comes in the wake of grassroots activism in Port St. Joe and a lawsuit filed by Public Citizen against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), alleging that the commission had fallen short of its duty to regulate fossil fuel export facilities by failing to require Nopetro to undergo an environmental impact assessment ahead of construction.
The lawsuit is set for oral argument in early October in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
“I was relieved to hear Nopetro decided not to pursue the construction of a liquified natural gas storage and export facility in Port St. Joe, Florida,” said Dannie Bolden, one of the leaders of Port St. Joe’s opposition to the LNG project. “The coalition took action and spoke loudly and with one voice, ‘Just Say No to Nopetro.’ We were successful, but we must remain steadfast to ensure there are no LNG facilities constructed along Florida’s Panhandle.”
Nopetro’s LNG plant would have taken gas from a pipeline and cooled the fossil fuel to minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit, turning it into a liquid. Then the liquified gas would be piped into large tanks in shipping containers and brought by truck 1,300 feet, or a quarter of a mile, to a crane that would place it on ships bound for the Caribbean and Latin America. Nopetro and FERC argued that because the containers of liquified gas were going to be taken a short distance by truck, rather than loaded directly onto ships, it should not be required to conduct an environmental review.
In the first six months of 2022, the U.S. exported 29% of the natural gas extracted across the country, according to a report by Public Citizen released in October 2022.
“They don’t want to deal with that comprehensive environmental review because it costs money and I would say to a community that if a company isn’t willing to commit the financial resources to conduct a comprehensive assessment to show that its facility is safe, then you don’t want that company operating in your community,” Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program told News 13, a local TV station.
As the lawsuit challenging FERC’s decision was filed, Slocum repeatedly traveled to Florida to build a community coalition to fight the project. Since 2022, Port St. Joe residents and Public Citizen have hosted three community meetings challenging the proposed project.
“Nopetro wanted to cut corners and rush the project past the community with little to no notice,” said Slocum. “Public Citizen has been privileged to work with so many dozens of incredible Port St. Joe residents who courageously took a stand for their community.”
Public Citizen’s work on Nopetro’s facility began in May 2021, when Slocum urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject the company’s request to escape FERC oversight over the project and avoid comprehensive federal environmental impact review.
Prior to Slocum’s early trips to Port St. Joe, community members had not been widely informed of the massive energy project being planned in their backyards.
The proposed site of the LNG export facility once was home to a paper mill which closed down in 1999, and was also once the economic engine of the city. The mill, which was adjacent to a historically African American community, has been subject to several community-driven redevelopment plans, the most recent of which looked toward tourism to bring in profits.
As members of the community planned for the future, Nopetro silently eyed the site for a LNG export facility, and in March 2021, petitioned FERC to exempt it from the commission’s oversight.
While Nopetro’s project has been stopped, projects like the one planned for Port St. Joe could continue to escape oversite unless FERC’s decision to avoid oversite is reversed. As Public Citizen’s lawsuit challenging that decision moves forward, major questions remain about how fossilized natural gas is liquified and exported.
“We need FERC to take jurisdiction over these types of facilities into the future for the sake of communities like Port St. Joe,” said Slocum. “By avoiding asserting their jurisdiction over this type of LNG export facility, a loophole has been created that will hurt communities, consumers, and the environment. We need more comprehensive oversite to protect us all.”