maines_underbelly_2005dec16.htmlTEXTR*ch kA 2005 December 16 Opinion Column -- Bangor Daily News
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"For much of the state of Maine, the environment is the economy"
                                           — US Senator Susan Collins, 2012 Jun 21

Opinion Column

Bangor Daily News

LNG & Maine's underbelly

Cliff Goudey

Friday, December 16, 2005

I'm not sure what is gained by publishing an article such as the one by Bill Trotter on Dec. 10 titled "Terminal Velocity." Taken directly from the LNG developer's playbook, much of what was presented in the article is just plain false.

While there is no question that location is playing a part in the mad rush to locate LNG in Washington County, here are the relevant facts without the LNG promoter's spin.

  • Most of the coast of New England is closer to the gas grid than Passamaquoddy Bay.
  • Because ships can't fly in straight lines, Passamaquoddy Bay is farther from foreign LNG sources than other New England ports.
  • Much of New England has the deep-water access, but nowhere has the raging tides found in Passamaquoddy Bay.
  • Passamaquoddy Bay is as far from the lucrative East Coast gas market as you can get and still be in New England.

So there must be other reasons for three proposals. Here is my guess:

  • Washington County is viewed as desperately in need of jobs and economic development in general. The developers are hoping that the safety and negative economic realities will be ignored because of this desperation.
  • Over half of the affected stakeholders around Passamaquoddy Bay are non-US citizens and therefore have no voice in the FERC review process.
  • Because of the relatively modest population numbers, a minimal amount of persuasion and generous but empty promises can generate a useful number of supporters. Economic development types are particularly susceptible to the intoxicating allure of very large dollar figures.

Yet developers remain excited because they think they have found Maine's soft underbelly. They pursue their inappropriate schemes in spite of local opposition and ignoring the fact that the LNG race in the northeast is over. Construction has started on two Canadian terminals and many other better-situated proposals are already under FERC review and years ahead of the Passamaquoddy trio.

The article mentioned the "hundreds of well-paying jobs" promised by each developer. Why would a terminal in Washington County where it is impractical to service LNG tanker trucks, require so many more employees than the 40 or fewer found at current LNG import facilities?

The article dismisses LNG safety concerns, quoting a retired University of Maine engineering professor who states, "I don't think it's dangerous at all."

His knowledge of the properties of LNG is revealed when he suggests it would "evaporate to a density lighter than air, causing the flammable gas to rise and disperse quickly into the atmosphere."

In fact, the vaporized gas is cold and hugs the ground or the sea until it warms by another 100 degrees before becoming lighter than air. The larger the spill, the longer this cold, dense, flammable vapor cloud follows the terrain or the windward shoreline.

One source for the story, an LNG consultant from Houston, stated "the perception that LNG is dangerous is a false perception" and that it's risks are "shared by all types of combustible fuels." He forgets that frigid LNG exists in a world that is roughly 300 degrees hotter than its boiling point. How many of us store our gasoline in a 350-degree oven?

The article emphasizes that FERC protects the public with thermal exclusion zones surrounding every LNG terminal. That is of little comfort since the distances used by FERC are far smaller than those recommended by more reputable safety experts and the recent Sandia Laboratory LNG risk study. The recent approval of a terminal in heavily populated Fall River demonstrates the inadequacy of FERC's current standards.

The article also cites FERC publication "A Guide to LNG — What All Citizens Should Know" as a useful source of information. In fact, that publication is pure LNG industry spin and reveals a troubling bias from the agency charged to review import terminal proposals. An illuminating rebuttal to it, "Public Safety and FERC's LNG Spin," can be found at the Pipeline Safety Trust web site:

Cliff Goudey is an engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a summer resident of Harpswell.

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