For 35 years I have worked as a firefighter. I know the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal puts our communities at too high a risk. Last month the Sabine Pass LNG export facility in Louisiana, one of two LNG export facilities that is up and running in the U.S., was shut down by federal regulators because of a leak that put workers at risk.
Supercold LNG leaked into the space between the inner and outer walls of two of the newer LNG storage tanks. The minus-260 degree LNG created multiple 1-foot to 6-foot cracks in the carbon steel outer tank wall, allowing LNG to escape. One tank was actively leaking gas vapors at 14 sites along the base of the tank. When the issue was finally brought to the attention of federal regulators, two of the five storage tanks were shut down.
The order issued by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said that, “after considering the presence of approximately 500 Sabine employees and contractors onsite, the potential for disruption to major transportation modes (including highways and waterways), the hazardous nature of the product being stored, the unpredictability of brittle failures and ignition sources, the newly-discovered history (2008-2016) of similar problems that have been present since the Facility came on-line, the uncertainties as to the cause of the Incident, and the ongoing investigations to determine the cause of the Incident, I find that a failure to issue this Order expeditiously to require immediate corrective action would result in likely serious harm to life, property, and the environment.”
This should be a wakeup call. The 500 workers at Sabine Pass, and the nearby communities in Cameron Parish, were lucky this time, but that may not always be the case.
In 2014, communities in Washington experienced just how dangerous LNG can be when an explosion occurred at an LNG storage facility in Plymouth. The blast sent 250 pounds of debris and shrapnel flying and put a gash in the side of an LNG storage tank. Fumes from the facility sickened residents and emergency responders and endangered the public. Five workers were hospitalized and 400 residents and agricultural workers within a two-mile radius of the facility were evacuated. It could have been much worse had the LNG storage tanks received further damage.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just the storage facilities that pose a risk to our communities, but also the tankers that will be coming in and out of the bay on a weekly basis. When LNG spills and comes into contact with water, it rapidly transitions into a dangerous vapor cloud that, if ignited by even the smallest spark miles away from the source, could cause massive explosions.
Because of the Cascadia subduction fault our communities are at an even greater risk. The director of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries recently wrote a scathing critique of Jordan Cove LNG’s claim that it will be safe to put a highly explosive pipeline and export terminal in a coastal tsunami zone, where a magnitude 9 earthquake is hundreds of years overdue. The state’s chief geologist found more than 50 instances where the company’s claims were “misleading,” unsubstantiated, or contradicted by the latest science. A January audit from Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson of our state’s preparedness for a catastrophic disaster shows that Oregon is nowhere near ready to deal with the “Big One.”
If LNG storage tanks in Louisiana can crack and leak on their own, how might an LNG storage facility be impacted by a category 9 earthquake? How would an LNG-fueled explosion in the aftermath of an earthquake impact the ability of emergency responders?
The Jordan Cove LNG export terminal and tankers would put more than 16,000 people in the Coos Bay area inside a possible hazardous burn zone. These recent events at LNG storage facilities should act as warning to our communities that LNG disasters can happen.
Recent guest opinions by proponents of Jordan Cove have tried to distract our communities from the real issues with this project. They know that hundreds of landowners are being threatened with the use of eminent domain by this private Canadian company in order to force them to accept the use of their property for the pipeline. Hundreds of waterbodies, including the Coos estuary would be negatively impacted by this project.
As a community that is still preparing for an eminent earthquake and tsunami, Coos Bay simply can’t afford the risk of a LNG export facility. That’s just one of many reasons why our local and state leaders should use their authority to shut down this project for good. Rural communities like ours need investment instead in sustainable, clean energy development and increased energy efficiency.
Retired Fire Chief