Wednesday, November 29, 2006

LNG In Fall River = Potential Disaster

Today's Boston Globe features a brief, but disturbing article:

A federal appeals court rejected yesterday an attempt by officials in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to block a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal from being built in Fall River.

The LNG terminal planned for design in Fall River would be built right in Fall River's harbor area, not miles away like other large and important projects for energy needs - such as Cape Wind, which is miles off of Cape Cod's coast. Not only is it going to be ugly, environmentally damaging and potentially cause the harbor to be backed up - but an LNG terminal in Fall River would pose a direct threat to literally hundreds of thousands of people. If the LNG terminal were to explode, be it from an accident or other cause, the damage would reach all the way to UMASS Dartmouth - more than a mile away.

Even if the tank were almost completely empty, tens of thousands of people would be at risk because an explosion would still be massive.
Critics fear that the LNG terminal could endanger residents in the densely populated area. Almost 64,000 people in Rhode Island and Massachusetts live along a tanker route proposed by the developers, Weaver's Cove Energy and Hess LNG.

When an LNG terminal explodes, the entire "tanker route" supposedly goes with it.

While the Northeast needs LNG terminals, there needs to be extremely particular planning for where they go. The best locations would be further out to see, at least a mile out. Furthermore, there could be some locations off the coast in Maine and New Hampshire which wouldn't put nearly as many people at risk. It may cost more money, but hundreds of thousands of people are put in direct threat when LNG facilities are nearby densely populated areas. LNG terminals are one area where no expense can be spared.


Anonymous said...

Sorry Ryan - but LNG doesn't explode. Unconfined natural gas is incapable of explosive detonation. The flame speed is too slow to cause overpressures. The highly unlikely worst case is a pool fire that might result in heat exposure. Most likely people in their homes would be unaffected.

Your "remote area" is another persons NIMBY. A terminal was rejected by Harpswell, ME with only a handful of people living near enough to be impacted.

Ryan Adams said...

Gee, they don't explode? Gee, google just isn't finding any examples of LNG dangers. I guess liquid nitrogen must be perfectly safe.

I'm not being NIMBY. First of all, I don't even LIVE in Fall River. I took a class there once, that's about the extent of my time spent there. You want to stick a LNG terminal right where 65,000 people live and would die if it explodes? (100,000s if it's full?) There are locations further off shore, maybe even in Massachusetts, where an LNG terminal could make sense. There are probably a lot more of those places in Maine, which has a lot more ocean front.

NIMBY = not wanting something because it's an eye sore or inconvienant. Something potentially lethal is not a NIMBY. I'd no more want an LNG facility directly off the coast of Hyannis than I would Fall River.

Anonymous said...

LNG is pretty safe. It is pretty hard for it to explode. A terminal could explode, but it is unlikely. There have been very few explosions over the years. And an explosion would not bring down the tanker route. I don't know how that could happen. The tanker route is at sea isn't it? or in Long Island Sound? or in The Race?

You were not being accused of being NIMBY. What the other reader was suggesting is that even if another site was considered, there would be people there who wouldn't want it. No one wants a huge storage tank of any kind in their backyard. No one wants to have to look at it and no one wants to have to look at the tankers that are delivering fuel to it, no matter if it's LNG or oil, or whatever.

I have to wonder though, do we really need more terminals? Is there that much of a demand? and do we expect for there to be increased demand for natural gas over the years? I would think that with ever increasing conservation measures and ever increasing energy efficiency standards that demand for all kinds of energy would be going down, no?

Ryan Adams said...

Energy demands are actually increasing, so yes, there is some need for another terminal. We'd probably get by without one though.

What seperates the Fall River LNG terminal from something like Cape Wind is the fact that the Fall River site would place the terminal *right* in their harbor area, in the middle of the water. That's very different from Cape Wind, which is miles out to see.

Contrast Fall River's site to Gloucester's proposed LNG terminal and there's much less resistance - and the resistance that there is comes primarily from concerned fishermen. Why less resistance? The site's much further out to sea than Fall River - far enough that I beleive it would be safe if it did explode.

Furthermore, while LNG may be relatively safe, it can still explode. And if it does explode, there will be a massive explosion wiping out more than a mile. That's already happened on at least one occasion, though few people died because it was in a relatively remote location. Fall River isn't remote at all: it's one of Massachusetts's largest cities.

While I've never been the type to channel 9/11, no one expected the twin towers to come crashing down either. No one expected a large chemical plant to burst in Danvers near a residential area, damaging almost a hundred homes (the damage could have easily killed several if the incident occurred during a different part of the day). We, as a country, need to think ahead before we build large projects.

PS: the LNG's route going through homes would sort of be like a domino effect. The fact that an LNG explosion can do that isn't a myth, I first read about it in the Boston Globe and my Chem and the Environment Prof - who at one point worked in that industry - discussed it at one point.

Anonymous said...

The Skikda incident involved a liquifaction process that used a mixed refrigerant that contained a mixture of methane, ethane, propane, and other hydrocarbons, those are capable of explosions. Plus, the process area around the explosion provided some confinement.

An LNG import terminal handles methane with small amounts of heavier hydrocarbons.

Yes, liquid nitrogen is safe, outside its cryogenic properties. It is non-flammable and non-toxic.

The explosion at Skikda did not involve "miles" of devastation. All fatalities and injuries were plant employees working within 500' of the point of the explosion. Most of the fatalaties were located in the control room and a maintenance warehouse across from the unit. Both buildings collapsed from the initial force of the blast. Two security guards were working at a security check point. One guard stepped outside to see what was happening. He was knocked to the ground and sustained some major injuries but fully recovered. His partner was killed by flying glass.

There is a nonsensical rumor about the exposions shattering windows 6 miles away. Turns out the homes that sustained damage (according to Sontatrach) were only 2,000 feet from the explosion. The rumor comes from a poor english-french translation. The homes are 6 miles from the town of Skikda but just outside the plant fence of the Skikda LNG & refining complex. We use shattered windows to estimate the overpressures from explosions. At 6 miles distance the explosion overpressures would have been over a thousand PSI. That can't be true since the office buildings less than 500' ft from the explosion were still standing. When we plugged 2,000 ft into the overpressure calculations, we got 15 psi overpressure, which fits within the damage photos.

Since the explosion, Sontatrch has removed the office buildings. I guess they learned something since the accident.

I'll mark the areas for you at wikimapia if you like.

As for a "domino" effect. You either are mistaken or your professor is an idiot. In the case of a pipeline rupture, there is the potential for a large fire at the site, but the pipeline shuts down automatically as it senses a loss in pressure. The fire can't travel back up the line as there is no oxygen to sustain a fire.

Anonymous said...

Ryan - I have tagged the Skikda site on Wikimapia. Go look for yourself.

The damage from the explosion and fire were all contained within 500' of the point of detonation. Even had this happened in Fall River, it is highly unlikely that any member of the public would have been harmed.

Anonymous said...

The link to wikimapia wasn't working.

The nitrogen video is an example of rapid phase transition. Basically the liquid turns to a gas very quickly creating a rapidly expanding vapor cloud. It is not an explosion in the sense that it is a chemical reaction that generates a shock wave and heat.

RPTs have very little exlosive power.

Anonymous said...

It's just plain ugly...

What's wrong with saying that? A little gentrification and an influx of progressives is a good thing that can usually bring a community from the brink of wasteland (definitely with some issues, though). And let's face it, young professionals and progressives do not generally like to move to places that are ugly, or have the potential to Not be ugly.

LNG will be another nail in Fall River's coffin after vinyl siding, bad zoning, poor development standards and uninformed leadership.

Glad I got out!

Anonymous said...

Fall River is not a good location for the LNG terminal, there's too many people, thousands that could be killed or severly injured. It would be best to locate LNG terminals offshore in unpopulated areas.If you don't believe Fall River is a problem for LNG,,,look at the possibilities Boston might face if the LNG ignites!

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