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The U.S. produces so much shale gas, it needs to find new markets overseas. The Trump administration has approved moving a liquefied form of the gas by rail, but some say that is too dangerous. Susan Phillips of member station WHYY reports on a route that would be one of the longest in the country.
SUSAN PHILLIPS, BYLINE: The gas will go first to a new plant in Northeast Pennsylvania, where refrigeration units will chill it to negative 260 degrees Fahrenheit. That's how it goes from a gas to a liquid. The part of the plan that scares a lot of people is the transport - 200 miles by truck or rail through some of the most densely populated areas of the East Coast to a planned export terminal in New Jersey.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Mom.
PHILLIPS: Vanessa Keegan lives nearby with her family, including 3-year-old Theo.
THEO: (Unintelligible) picture.
VANESSA KEEGAN: You want to take a picture?
KEEGAN: OK, you got to give Mommy the iPad. We take another picture (laughter), right? There we go.
PHILLIPS: Rail cars full of highly flammable liquefied natural gas, or LNG, would roll about a block and a half away from Keegan's home. A day care center sits right at the company gate.
KEEGAN: So they want special permits to transport them right there - that train track that you could skip on down to in about a minute and a half. And that terrifies me.
PHILLIPS: This project is part of a larger push to export natural gas. Last summer, the Trump administration changed a long-standing federal policy to allow rail transport of LNG anywhere in the country. Fifteen states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, challenged the move, saying it puts people's lives at risk. In this Rust Belt region of New Jersey, the LNG export project does have support from building trade unions and powerful state lawmakers, including Assemblyman John Burzichelli. He says his grandfather worked at a former DuPont plant on the site of the planned export terminal.
JOHN BURZICHELLI: That site will create jobs as it once did, contribute to a tax base as it once did, be an important economic driver for people to make a living and feed their families.
PHILLIPS: Burzichelli says safety issues should be raised and addressed. But he says rail cars carry much more hazardous materials through the region every day. Ray Mentzer is a chemical engineer at Purdue University who spent his career on LNG projects for ExxonMobil. He says the specially designed containers have a good safety record. But he says transporting the gas through densely populated areas increases the risk if there's a leak.
RAY MENTZER: It's not flammable until it's vaporized, but it's going to vaporize pretty dang quickly. And then it's going to seek an ignition source. Believe me, it will find an ignition source pretty darn readily.
PHILLIPS: Mentzer says a vapor cloud would definitely catch fire.
MENTZER: If I was at a town meeting and I lived there, I would want to know, just what routes are you going to use?
PHILLIPS: Right now, the exact routes are unclear. Multiple attempts to reach the developers of the project, New Fortress Energy, went unanswered. If the overseas export terminal gets built, none of the gas will go to power New Jersey homes. Instead, the state is planning a large coastal wind farm off Atlantic City to help New Jersey reach its goal of all-clean energy by 2050.
For NPR News, I'm Susan Phillips in Philadelphia.
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