Thursday, July 06, 2006

Here's Why It's a Bad Idea to Oppose Broadwater Based on Safety Risks

An interesting column in the New Haven Advocate, a weekly, takes on the question of how much of a safety risk Broadwater’s LNG terminal poses. The answer it comes up with, based on recent testimony from a Coast Guard official, is “not much.”

Here’s an excerpt:

If a barge storing eight billion cubic feet of LNG goes up in flames--a highly uncommon scenario--it's a big problem indeed. But it's not the nightmare scenario you might imagine.

Last week, the Coast Guard's Peter Boynton, captain of the port for all of Long Island Sound, set straight an aldermanic committee that was considering a mayoral resolution opposing the barge. In testimony that Alderman Al Paolillo hailed for its relentless objectivity, Boynton explained that LNG is not flammable unless it turns into a gas--and even then, to explode, it must constitute a very specific percentage of air in an enclosed space. In open air, the gas burns rather than explodes.

It does, however, burn like hell. Using the absolute worst-case scenario--an attack on an LNG tanker--the heat radiation from the fire could pose a high hazard to anything within a third of a mile. "That basically means you can't be there," says Boynton. The next zone, up to a mile away, poses a "moderate hazard"--without shelter, you could get second-degree burns. Beyond a mile, the threat is very low.

The barge would be nine miles from Long Island and 10 miles from the nearest point in Connecticut (11 miles from New Haven). "From the perspective of safety, that's an advantage," said Boynton, who would be responsible for enforcing the exclusion zone around the barge and LNG tankers.

An LNG fire, while intense, would also be relatively brief, lasting perhaps an hour. Ignited oil spills, by comparison, can burn for days and befoul the air, while unburned oil can have a catastrophic, decades-long impact on the marine environment. LNG, if spilled in water, simply evaporates. "It does not persist in the environment," said Boynton.

If you really want to worry about safety, Boynton says, worry about the port of New Haven, which has 205 gas and oil tanks, each of which poses a risk of explosion. I think it’s a bad idea to concentrate of the safety issue, and I said so here and here.

The problem with the Advocate’s piece, which was written by Ryan Kearney, is that it continues to argue that the Broadwater terminal is a bad idea. But its argument is amazingly lazy and lame:

There are reasons aplenty to oppose Broadwater's plan, from anger at Bush and Big Energy to concerns for blackfish and Billy the Boater. Terrorism's just not one of them.

That’s not the summary of the argument, by the way. It’s the entire thing. To stop Broadwater, though, we’re going to have to do better than that.


Blogger Sam said...

Maybe here is something to think about: such a proposed facility would have a "zone of security" or something the Coast Guard calls it, all around this feature. All refineries and LNG terminals have them. So what happens is that you just converted a bunch of public lands (LI Sound waters) to private uses. Come within a few thousands feet and you may be apprehended. Think about that aspect, the "Tragedy of the Commons." I hadn't thought of that argument all the way through, but there is some "historical use" with this part of the Sound. -Sam

8:45 PM  

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