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LNG is Too Hazardous to be So Close to Home

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants and tankers cannot be truly safe and secure. The major risks of LNG are:

  • Accidental or terrorist-caused release of LNG
  • Pooling of spilled LNG
  • Formation of a vapor cloud that can travel 2-4 miles
  • Ignition of LNG pool or vapor cloud causing massive, intense fire and thermal radiation that can burn people and property thousands of yard away

Dangerous Properties of LNG

LNG is natural gas that has been chilled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, turning it into a clear, colorless liquid. Bechtel-Shell's proposal for Mare Island would include an LNG regassification facility that would turn LNG back into natural gas.

LNG is highly unstable -- spilled LNG rapidly warms into a vapor cloud that can travel over the surface of water or land for several miles. If the vapor cloud comes into contact with any source of ignition, such as a backfiring car or a cigarette, it could ignite into a giant fire. LNG fires burn incredibly hot, and are very difficult, if not impossible, to extinguish. Thermal radiation from the fire can burn people and property many thousands of feet away.

The inherent danger of LNG is why the United States Code’s minimum safety standards for LNG plants emphasizes the “need to encourage remote siting,” and why the 1977 California Assembly Bill No. AB220 required a buffer zone of one mile around LNG plants, and prohibited placing LNG plants within six miles of populated areas.

What Industry Consultants Say About LNG

Even industry consultants acknowledge that there is a potential for devastation miles away from an LNG spill. In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Quest Consultants -- one of Bechtel’s own -- and Lloyd's Register performed studies for the Department of Energy, Department of Transportation and Boston officials on the consequences of a breach of a single tank of an LNG Carrier.

The Quest study found that if only one tank of an LNG carrier were breached and 25,000 cubic meters of LNG (6,604,301 gallons) leaked out, the resulting flammable vapor cloud could drift as far as 2.5 miles before it was no longer flammable. The Lloyd’s study found that the flammable vapor cloud could drift as far as two to four miles before it could no longer catch on fire.

Quest further found that if 25,000 cubic meters of LNG formed a pool on the water and ignited, heat radiation from the fire would burn a human at simmer temperature about 1,800 feet away, and it would take as long as an hour for the gas to burn out.

So far, Bechtel-Shell have not denied the results of these studies. They simply don’t talk about them.

Why Won’t Bechtel-Shell Tell Us the Truth About LNG?

It is in Bechtel and Shell’s best interests to play down the safety risks of LNG. Can we rely on information from these companies - who have a huge economic stake in getting this plant built? Lieutenant Eric Hahn, Boston Harbormaster, doesn't think so. When asked to comment on a report paid for by Everett LNG plant owner Distrigas, that stated that any fire from an LNG release would create slow-moving, relatively confined fire, he said, “Sorry, I’m not convinced. I have this thing about somebody in the business telling me things are going to be great.” (Boston Globe Online, Boston Lifts Ban on Gas Tankers, by David Arnold, Oct. 17, 2001.)

Why did Bechtel and Shell hide information about the dangers of LNG from Vallejo’s City leaders during the initial year of secret negotiations? Apparently this is not unusual: “Out and out lies, clever omissions . . . I haven’t found an industry yet which doesn’t keep their little corporate cards close to their chests.” Everett Fire Chief Ken Shedden, on the deception that is common when corporations handling hazardous substances deal with public authorities. (Boston Globe Online, Volatile Cargoes in Harbor Raise Accident Fears, Charles A. Radin, March 1, 1998).

See LNG Safety Myths & Legends, produced by ChevronTexaco for more information.

© 2002 maggdog communications
Photos courtesy of Michael Halberstadt, Joyce Scharf and Friends of VallejoCPR
Page Last Updated Jan 8, 2003