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Update on BP’s LNG Terminal proposal

By David A. Bailey

In the months following my initial article on British Petroleum’s plans to build a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal at its Crown Landing site in New Jersey (County Comments, July/August 2004), Delaware has woken up to the hazards these plans create. At the same time, however, BP has been pulling out all the stops to overcome local resistance through heavily financed lobbying and misinformation campaign.

Before going further, let’s review the Civic League’s position: The Civic League is not against an LNG terminal somewhere along the Delaware waterway. However, it opposes an LNG terminal at the Crown Landing site because the site will require LNG tankers, carrying 33 million gallons or more of LNG, to travel within less than a mile of the Salem and Hope Creek Nuclear Power plants, the Premcor refinery, the Sunoco refinery, and large, heavily populated areas such as Wilmington and New Castle, and go directly under the Delaware Memorial Bridge, several times per week. We believe that these tankers will create an unnecessary and avoidable risk to thousands of people and local industries, as well as an ongoing disruption to commerce as water traffic and traffic over the Delaware Memorial Bridge is halted for hours each week for security reasons. The risks stem from the fact that LNG tankers that travel near populated areas, bridges, refineries, and nuclear power plants are prime terrorist targets. If attacked under the right circumstances, a tanker can create a fireball that inflicts second-degree burns at distances of one to two miles. The terrorist risk can be virtually eliminated by moving the LNG terminal to a location south of the Salem Nuclear Power Plant. Not only would such relocation dramatically reduce the potential for damage from an attack; it would make the tankers much less attractive targets. BP’s argument that it does not want to relocate the terminal is based only on expense. It doesn’t want to pay for additional land, permits and pipelines. Delaware law, however, under the Coastal Zone Act, does not allow BP to build the terminal at its Crown Landing site. The Civic League believes that Delaware should resolutely enforce its law and thereby prevent the terminal from being built at the proposed location; BP can afford to build it at a location that doesn’t endanger the residents of Delaware and New Jersey.

To summarize the positive developments since August:

  • There was a significant response to the County Comments article in Delaware. It was broadcast as a Green Delaware Alert to Green Delaware’s members, which lead to numerous connections with organizations opposed to the LNG terminal in both Delaware and New Jersey.
  • These organizations, including Green Delaware, Common Cause of Delaware, and LNG Community Focus, based in New Jersey, sent representatives to speak as panelists, together with representatives from BP, at the Civic League’s November meeting. Despite BP’s tour-de-force of high-quality visuals and practiced answers to questions, important issues were raised that led to disturbing revelations. This was especially important because the meeting was covered by both WILM radio and the News Journal’s Jeff Montgomery.
  • Since that time, Jeff Montgomery has written several headline articles for the News Journal on BP’s plans. These articles provided a probing and revealing analysis of the issues raised at the November meeting. Columnists Al Mascitti and Ron Williams have also written on the subject, and WILM has devoted significant time to the LNG issue, including a talk program on January third’s WILM Morning Report.
  • The Civic League’s opposition to BP’s Crown Landing site has been joined, and, in fact surpassed, by Green Delaware, Common Cause of Delaware, the Sierra Club of Delaware, the Delaware Audubon Society, and LNG Community Focus. We have the comfort of knowing that we are not alone in this battle, and have benefited from a treasure-trove of information and resources supplied by these other groups.

These results are a confirmation and validation of the concerns and position that the Civic League has taken. If our opponent was less formidable, they would give us strong confidence that our position would prevail. However, BP is determined to quash the opposition and is willing to spend big bucks and misrepresent the facts to overpower it. It has also repeatedly demonstrated a complete lack of interest in researching legitimate safety concerns that run counter to its financial interests. Here are some examples of BP’s tactics:

  • A well-produced video demonstrating the safety and un-flammable nature of LNG. While this video devotes significant time to demonstrating how a cigarette could be extinguished in a vial of LNG, it gives essentially NO time to LNG disasters of the past that have killed hundreds of people and destroyed numerous city blocks. It focuses on LNG itself and the fact that LNG does not burn, diverting the viewer’s attention from the real issue: LNG only remains a liquid when kept at about -256 degrees Fahrenheit, that it rapidly gasifies at room temperature, particularly when spilled on a body of water, expanding to 600 times its original volume, and that the resulting gas, a combination of methane, ethane, propane, and butane, is highly flammable. Using the arguments presented by the video, one could also demonstrate that gasoline does not represent a fire hazard because gasoline, in its liquid state, does not burn; only its fumes do.
  • A studious adherence to the logic of “It all depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.” BP’s representatives doggedly contend that LNG cannot create an explosion. Instead, they claim it can only burn very rapidly. Because LNG and gasoline have similar energy densities (22 Giga Joules of energy per cubic meter for LNG and 34 Giga Joules of energy per cubic meter of gasoline) we could use this logic to conclude that gasoline also cannot explode, but only creates a rapidly burning fire. Why this battle over semantics? Because people instinctively fear explosions, but think fires are more controllable.
  • Repeated portrayals of LNG as being safer than crude oil, in the previously mentioned video, in BP’s literature, and in interviews with local newspapers. BP’s reasoning is that, because LNG evaporates completely and leaves no residue, an LNG spill is actually less harmful to the environment than an oil spill. Their only acknowledgement of the fire hazard that evaporated LNG creates is in their statements of how unlikely such a fire is, with no discussion at all of the catastrophic nature of such a fire.
  • A willful promulgation of false logic. For example, one of the arguments presented repeatedly by BP is that people shouldn’t be bothered by LNG tankers on the Delaware River because there are already other things far more dangerous moving up and down the river. Using this logic, a person juggling beakers of nitroglycerine shouldn’t mind if someone tosses him an additional vial of nitro to juggle. After all, it’s just one more hazard, and smaller than the things already in the air. This logic neglects the fact that hazards accumulate, and in fact multiply because one catastrophe can set off another. In addition, the complexity of security requirements increase geometrically with each additional hazard monitored. Sooner or later, our security jugglers will be tossed one vial too many. This is not a hypothetical issue: Philadelphia Gas and Electric, with support from Mayor John Street, is already pushing to bring LNG up to PG&E’s terminal in South Philly. If BP’s plans are approved, this false logic will be used again by PG&E.

    Rather than open the floodgates to LNG, what we should do instead is find out more about the hazard that BP alluded to. Was BP just making things up to score a rhetorical point? Or are there really other hazards we should concern us? What are they? Maybe, instead of opening the doors to hazardous materials further, we should ask, “After closing down the Crown Landing site, what other hazards should we go after?”

  • A presentation of false alternative sites that make the Crown Landing Site appear optimal. BP went through great effort to demonstrate that it had considered a set of seven possible sites, and, after careful analysis, determined that the Crown Landing site was best. The only problem is that all of the sites investigate are within a few miles of each other, and all of them are on the Delaware River north of Wilmington. In other words, from a security standpoint, none of these sites were substantially different from each other, and none of them are acceptable. When presented with the notion of located the site south of the Salem Nuclear Power Plant, BP rejected it out of hand because they have decided not to build any new pipelines.
  • BP acknowledges that no full-scale tests of how an LNG tanker behaves under various terrorist attack scenarios has been done, and strongly resists the idea of conducting any such tests. This response is bizarre to say the least, and demonstrates an engineering hubris combined with reckless disregard for human life that is truly Titanic. The only conclusion one can come to is that BP doesn’t know, and doesn’t want to know, what could happen if a well-planned terrorist attack was launched on an LNG tanker. Their position is that, because no LNG tanker has ever been attacked, there is no reason to consider such a scenario.
  • Advocates of LNG are trying to overrule Delaware’s Coastal Zone Act at the Federal level. Inserted into page 326 of the Congressional Record, H10560, under the misleading title of “Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Salaries and Expenses,” are the statements:

    “On March 24, 2004, FERC issued a declaratory order asserting exclusive jurisdiction over the approval and siting of LNG terminals….The Natural Gas Act clearly preempts States on matters of approving and siting natural gas infrastructure associated with interstate and foreign commerce…Any dispute of LNG siting jurisdictional authority now will be counterproductive to meeting our natural gas needs in the future.”

As we have learned from the experience of 9/11 and the recent Tsunami near Banda Aceh, things that never happened before happen all the time. Interestingly, Thailand had a seismologist working for the government who predicted, several years ago, that a major seismic event was likely to occur, and suggested that an early warning system be created. Thailand’s response? They rejected the proposed early warning system because they feared that it would scare away tourists and fired the seismologist. We can be sure that if someone had walked into a meeting of the Twin Towers’ architects and asked “Have you considered the possibility of simultaneous terrorist attacks using passenger jets filled with fuel?” that person would have been laughed out of the room.

A terrorist attack on an LNG tanker plying the Delaware River is far more likely than a Magnitude 9.0 Tsunami or a coordinated hijacking of four passenger jets on suicide missions. It is also far easier to avert. Relocating BP’s LNG terminal south of the Salem Nuclear Power plant, while expensive to those who want it, is entirely feasible and far less costly than the disaster scenarios that the Crown Landing site creates. The Civic League does not oppose the concept of an LNG terminal; we oppose BP’s plans to locate the terminal at a site that minimizes its own short-term costs at the expense of Delaware’s and New Jersey’s long-term welfare.

Will the opponents of BP’s Crown Landing Site prevail? From the perspective of sheer power and money, there is no way opponents can overcome the combination of BP’s highly financed misinformation campaign and FERC’s trump card over Delaware law. We do however, have a powerful ally: common sense. When residents seemed powerless to stop the demolition of Old St. George’s Bridge, or the dumping of processed VX hydrosylate into the Delaware River, common sense saved the day. Common Sense does not work by itself, though. It is up to each of us, as individuals and as allies, to make sure that Common Sense is heard over the siren calls of greed and self-interest.

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Posted: FLR -