House Lawmaker Says Study Supports Remote Siting of LNG

The results of a federal study on the risks of liquefied natural gas (LNG) are "very sobering and...should give everyone reason to make certain that we do not build new LNG facilities in or near a densely-populated area," said Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) Tuesday.

The study, which was conducted by the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratory, is the first federally funded study that looks at the full consequences of a terrorist attack against an LNG carrier vessel, and includes in its models of plausible consequences actual information from the intelligence community, he noted. The study is expected to be made public later today.

The Sandia report exposes "serious weaknesses in the way we build these vessels and immense challenges to the public safety community who are tasked with protecting these ships and the terminals they service," said Markey, who is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee. He also represents the district where the only urban LNG import terminal in the United States is located.

"Previous studies have assumed that an intentional attack on a loaded LNG tanker might open up a hole no larger than a meter. Sandia says the intentional hole size ranges up to 12 meters (over 29 feet), with a five meter hold being their nominal case," he said. In addition, the study finds that threats could include"'multiple events and multiple containers damaged,' which means that even an attack that causes a five meter hole could lead to a cascade of events that breaches three containers on the ship."

The Sandia study's assumptions "vastly increase the estimated consequences of damage" to neighboring facilities and communities compared to other government-funded studies, according to Markey.

Sandia "also largely dismisses some of the methods used by previous studies to minimize the size of the pool of fire emanating from a breached tanker -- such as the Quest study's assumptions about wave effects or other studies that have talked about smoke effects, as being too speculative to provide any strong basis for conclusions."

In a worst-case scenario, the Sandia study reports "we could see a radius of up to 630 square meters subject to levels of heat and fire that would burn buildings, damage steel tanks and machinery, while a radius of up to 2,118 square meters could be exposed to levels of heat that would cause second-degree burns (blistering) within 30 seconds," Markey noted.

Because the LNG terminal in Everett, MA, which is part of his district, is in such a narrow ship channel, these levels of fire and heat pose a risk to public safety, he said. Markey noted he plans to ask Sandia National Laboratory to apply their findings to the situation in Boston Harbor, "so we can make informed decisions about how best to mitigate the potential safety impacts.

Richard Sharples, executive director of The Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, said the group plans to review the study and provide comments to the DOE. He pointed out that "throughout the nearly 40-year history of the LNG operations worldwide and more than 35,000 cargo deliveries, there have been no significant releases of LNG related to a breach or failure of a cargo tank."

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