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An Explosive Issue on the Delaware River
Crown Landing Liquefed Natural Gas Project

by Dave Bailey
Introduction

British Petroleum (BP) is in the process of preparing to build a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal at the Crown Landing site, near Oldmans Creek, NJ, with LNG tankers passing through Delaware's portion of the Delaware River. In doing so, they have done a careful analysis of numerous sites, and have determined that this is the most cost-effective way to serve the increasing needs for natural gas along the Philadelphia/ Camden/Wilmington corridor.

However, BP's study, entitled "Crown Landing LNG Project Resource Report 10: Alternatives" only considers the growing need for natural gas in the area, and the cost, feasibility, and environmental impact of the alternatives considered. The risks of terrorism and the impacts of a catastrophic event are not considered at all in this comparative study.

Therefore, the arguments that BP presents in favor of the Crown Landing Site remind one of what a daughter might tell her parents about the benefits of moving in with her boyfriend: saving money on rent and transportation, convenience, etc., while willfully turning a blind eye to the very real possibility of a catastrophic event, involving an undesired rapid inflation and potential explosions. Like the daughter, BP pushes determinedly forward.

A meeting with British Petroleum

After reviewing a number of articles from other parts of the world, recording both outcries against LNG terminals and explosions resulting in the loss of life, Frances West and I met with two BP representatives, Tom Mueller (LNG External Affairs Director) and Laurie Beppler (Project Engineering Manager), to discuss our concerns.

The newspaper and magazine articles we read contained quotes such as the following:
Mobile Register, January 31, 2004,
"Federal agency calls for major LNG review":
"Scientists and industry documents have suggested that an attacker with a small amount of explosives could set off a chain reaction of fires onboard an LNG tanker, ultimately destroying the 1,000 foot-long ship. Such an incident could result in a fire-ball over a mile wide, capable of burning people within a two mile radius, according to scientists"

Mechanical Engineering Magazine, July 2004 issue,
"Two if by sea":
"LNG sweats again these days under the bright light of public inquiry ...Attacks on the USS Cole and the oil tanker Limburg demonstrate the vulnerability of ships to terrorism, said MIT mechanical engineering professor James A Fay, an oft-cited expert on the safety of LNG and oil tankers ...The main concerns over an LNG tanker still are the way in which the super-cooled liquid would quickly vaporize upon contacting the warmer water and the way in which the vapor, if ignited, would rapidly burn in a huge pool fire. Yet no one knows exactly how a 6.5 million-gallon LNG pool fire would behave ...There's some debate, of course, but most peer-reviewed predictions agree that such a spill could produce a fire of about a quarter-mile radius. Anyone within a half-mile of the fire's edge would sustain second degree bums on skin exposed for half a minute ...What's more, 6.5 million gallons represents the capacity of just one of an LNG carrier's typical five holds. (Jerry) Havens (who directs the Chemical Hazards Research Center at the Univ. of Arkansas) calculated that the size of the pool fire in a spill from a single hold could be great enough to envelop a tanker, which usually stretches over 900 feet long. What would happen after that could be anybody's guess."

Boston Globe, February 27, 2004, "Fire officials voice concerns on LNG threat"
"Boston fire officials told a state panel yesterday they are unprepared to deal with the potential disaster stemming from an explosion aboard one of the giant tankers that carries (LNG) through Boston Harbor ...Part of the problem is a lack of knowledge about what would happen if an LNG tanker was damaged during a terrorist attack. While industry officials believe a fire would be contained and remain around the ship, (Fire Commissioner Paul) Christian expressed concern about the potential for clouds of natural gas to drift and find an ignition source miles inland, creating a "back burn" that could devastate sections of Charlestown, Everett, East Boston, and downtown ...Testimony also focused on the cost of the security escorts for the tankers. State Police officials said a "low-ball" estimate of state security costs including sending divers under piers to check for bombs and placing snipers on nearby rooftops has totaled well over $1.4 million for about 120 LNG deliveries since October 2001."

Mobile Register, January 21, 2004,
"More bodies found at LNG blast scene"
"Searchers discovered 10 more bodies at a (LNG) complex in Algeria leveled by an explosion, raising the death toll to at least 27, an official said Tuesday. Seventy-four people were injured and rescuers said as many as a dozen workers were believed missing."

At our meeting with Mr. Mueller and Ms. Beppler, the responses we received to the concerns raised, based on these articles, were essentially in line with what Mr. Mueller had told the Courier Post as reported in the article "Proposed gas plant raises alarms," published May 5, 2004: "BP officials argue the LNG handling process is no riskier than moving conventional oil products up the river, perhaps even less so because the ships used in transporting LNG have a protective double-hulled system and other safety protections that are more modem than those on many older oil tankers still in use. They add that LNG, produced by chilling natural gas to minus -256 degrees Fahrenheit, is not flammable. If a spill did occur, the vapors immediately above the LNG would be flammable but the product would not be highly explosive, said Tom A. Mueller..."Only the top zone would burn, but it's not a high-pressure explosive situation," he said. The terminal would be built with fire suppression systems and trenches to contain "any breach, whether by accident or an act of terror," Mueller said ...While the terminal "would not be patrolled by an army and tanks," systems would be in place to ensure its security, Mueller said, adding that Coast Guard vessels would accompany LNG ships..."

In describing the need for an LNG terminal at Crown Landing, Mr. Mueller explained to us that it was not feasible to depend on terminals already existing at other sites, such as Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana or Elba Island in Chatham County, Georgia, because the pipelines leading here from there were too small and could not be expanded for additional capacity. When I raised the point that, if natural gas could be piped up from Louisiana, then, actually, any place along the east coast was a potential candidate for a new LNG terminal, therefore it might be wiser to consider a location that is more remote from populated areas, he replied that there were no plans to build new natural gas pipelines. When we suggested that an off-shore site be used (several newly planned LNG terminals are placing their docking point 10 or more miles off-shore to avoid endangering residents) this idea was also deflected. However, after looking at the map of the Delaware Bay together, we could readily spot locations closer to the mouth of the bay that were protected from the Atlantic Ocean and able to accommodate an off-shore terminal, although pipelines may have to cross protected lands.

The final point that came up in our meeting was that natural gas, like oil, was a limited resource that is likely to be depleted within 30 or so years. Were the expected benefits of this project really worth the dangers that the Castle Landing LNG terminal would create, given that they are only temporary? That question went unanswered.

Conclusions

BP's proposal appears to comply with all federal rules and regulations regarding safety. However, these rules and regulations were created before the terrorist threats we perceive today existed, and therefore, do not consider methods of safeguarding against terrorist attacks. While this problem exists at many sites that were built in years past, there is no excuse to build a new site without the requisite safeguards.

There are five reasons that combine together to make the Crown Landing site simply unacceptable under any circumstance in the light of the terrorist threat we face today:

  1. The thermal capacity of the fireball unleashed from a LNG tanker alone, if the barrier that separates a LNG tanker's hold from the surrounding environment were breached, is about three times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. While the shock impact of the explosion would be nothing like that of a nuclear bomb, it would still be enough to burn people within a two mile radius of the explosion.
  2. The Crown Landing site is located about a mile from the Delaware shore, between Edgemoor and Claymont, an area with a relatively dense population.
  3. The tankers would travel within a few hundred yards of several heavily populated areas, such as Wilmington, Claymont, New Castle, Pennsville, and Penns Grove, to get to the Crown Landing site.
  4. The collateral fires created by the intense heat of an explosion could easily be as damaging, if not more so, than the LNG's initial fireball. Particularly, with LNG tankers passing by the Salem Nuclear Power Plant on their way to the Crown Landing Site, a nuclear disaster could result from a wellplaced terrorist attack. Depending on the location of an attack, the Premcor or Sunoco refineries could also be struck.
  5. The Delaware River facilitates terrorist attacks on LNG tankers. There are two long coastlines from which terrorists could easily launch a device designed to puncture a tanker. A long section of the waterway is narrow enough for an explosion to reach the shoreline. The river is also traveled by many other boats and ships, from which a terrorists could launch an attack. A car driving over the Delaware Memorial Bridge could also, with relative ease, launch such a device at a tanker. There are simply too many possible attack points to cover.

Moreover, the Crown Landing site violates Delaware's Coastal Zone Act, which bans new bulk loading terminals from that part of the river. In its Aug. 5, 2004 article, "Coast Guard review of LNG plan sought", the News Journal notes that "Although the Crown Landing storage tanks would stand in Logan Township, N.J., the pier and docking facilities would extend some 1,900 feet into a portion of the river inside Delaware and subject to Coastal Zone regulation." There are other alternatives, using either existing or emerging technologies, that make a LNG terminal possible in places where it is not a hazard to densely populated areas and do not violate Delaware's Coastal Zone Act. BP's position that pipelines can't be built turns out to actually mean that they don't want to spend the money and go through the red tape of building a pipeline. Such a pipeline does not have to be exceptionally long. It would simply need to extend to a spot that is safely south of the Salem Nuclear Power plant, and preferably at least several miles off-shore.

We recommend that the Civic League pass a resolution recommending to state legislators that they DO NOT grant BP permission to let LNG tankers pass through Delaware's portion of the Delaware River. The legislators should, instead, suggest that BP seek a solution that fully considers the risks created by terrorism and uses off-shore terminal technology. The Civic League should also pass a resolution urging its Federal Representative and Senators to oppose BP's efforts to have FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) approve the Crown Landing site as a LNG terminal.


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