2007 Oct 12
by Edward French
Both the developers and the opponents of two proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals at Pleasant Point and Robbinston agree that a recently released study prepared for the government of Canada on the potential impacts of an LNG terminal on Passamaquoddy Bay contains inaccuracies and has gaps in knowledge. However, while the developers maintain that the study found nothing to prohibit the safe passage of LNG vessels to the terminals, those opposing the projects argue that the risks are too great.
Jessie Davies of St. Andrews, co-chair of Save Passamaquoddy Bay/Canada, says the study does not adequately look at information that is available locally and does not examine some potential impacts, such as the effect of security zones around the LNG ships on the fishing industry and tourism. The study, which was prepared by Senes Consultants Limited of Ottawa for the federal government, was commissioned in the winter of 2005 by one administration, headed by Paul Martin, and finished under the Stephen Harper government. Davies believes that changes in the LNG proposals during that time could have contributed to some inaccuracies.
While agreeing with the LNG developers that there are errors, Davies says that, if the consultant had done a better job, the study would demonstrate more clearly the problems with siting the facilities in Passamaquoddy Bay. "Just because you can get a tanker through an inappropriate passage doesn't mean that if you do it week after week in all sorts of weather that it's a good idea to do it," she says. "If there's no human error, if there are no other vessels around and no terrorists, you could get it through, but that's not the question. The question is if the risks are acceptable for doing it on a regular basis."
"It's a political decision by Canada to say these risks are unacceptable," Davies says, noting that the government consulted with its own experts and looked at the biological status of the bay, in addition to considering the study. Referring to the Canadian government's decision to refuse to allow LNG vessels through Head Harbour Passage, she says, "That's the end of the story. No means no." She maintains that "Dean Girdis is grasping at straws" to keep the funding by Downeast LNG's investors.
Girdis, who is president of Downeast LNG, says that he finds nothing in the study's conclusions that would prohibit the safe transit of LNG ships to and from Downeast LNG's proposed terminal in Robbinston. "We welcome the additional information that this report provides, and if those who oppose our project hope to use this report as justification for their position, it falls way, way short of the mark," he says in a prepared release. He notes that the study states that, by and large, it is possible to transit safely, but it is absolutely necessary to plan the passage in accordance with the tidal cycle. "We have indeed done just that," Girdis says. "We have carefully planned for shipping routes, tides and currents, and we have engaged in highly sophisticated transit simulations with both Canadian and U.S. officials as observers. Our studies, as well as the working documents of the U.S. Coast Guard, go well beyond the self-admitted 'qualitative' nature of this report. It seems very odd that the authors of the study never used any of the public reports or talked with the local pilots who have actually brought hundreds of large vessels through those very same waters without incident."
He also says the Canadian study used an incorrect vessel speed -- 14 knots versus 9 knots -- in evaluating LNG ship passage through Head Harbor Passage and failed to take into account the four tugboats and two pilots, including a Canadian, that would accompany the vessel, the planned transit at slack tide to avoid the Old Sow whirlpool, or the enhanced aids to navigation that will be in place before the terminal is operational.
Brian Smith, project manager of Quoddy Bay LNG, echoes Girdis' statements. "As we expected based on our years of study, the report in no way indicates that the transit cannot be made safely, securely, or without significant harm to the environment, and in fact concludes that risk mitigation strategies can be used to reduce risks to both the population and the environment."
A large portion of the report focuses on the safety of the transit through the Bay of Fundy and Head Harbour Passage. "We agree with this central conclusion of the report: mitigation strategies can and should be employed to ensure the safety and security of the transit and of the environment," says Smith. "After years of consultation with FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission], the U.S. Coast Guard, and internationally recognized experts, we have proposed strategies to minimize risks, and the agencies are carefully analyzing them, exactly as the Canadian report suggests. Interestingly, the Canadian government relied on this same report to justify repeated attempts to halt this process."
"Much of what is discussed with relation to risk to land and the environment are exactly similar to risks posed by transit to the Canaport LNG facility," says Quoddy Bay Deputy Project Manager Adam Wilson, referring to the facility outside Saint John, N.B. "If Canada is able to mitigate these risks for Canadian companies, I would expect that the United States can mitigate these risks for U.S. companies."
"Overall, while the report is very high level and largely applicable to all LNG terminals, we agree with its central conclusion and recommendation," states Smith. "Risk mitigation strategies can be and should be employed at Quoddy Bay LNG just as at the Canaport LNG facility to ensure the protection of the surrounding population and environment."
Potential risks reviewed
While the study does not draw any definitive conclusions, it does point out potential risks. Concerning the transit of LNG vessels through Head Harbour Passage, it states, "It was noted that the vessel's turning radius at manoeuvring speed presents some problems in the elbow that connects Head Harbour Passage and Western Passage. Use of the marker software 'National Manoeuvreing Guidelines' supported our concerns by clearly showing that the waterway at its narrowest point near the elbow is barely wide enough to support safe passage of this type of vessel in an autonomous way at normal manoeuvrability speed in light currents and mild winds." The study finds that the "most critical point of the transit is close to the Old Sow turn, where the risk factor is approximately double the average risk for the whole transit."
"Given these findings, the transit of an LNG tanker similar to the sample vessel involves a considerable level of risk. Nevertheless, it is possible to adopt an approach that will allow for risk management and for the application of a number of measures to mitigate risk. The risk-mitigation measures give rise to additional costs in the implementation and operation of the transportation system. In addition to these additional costs, the mitigation measures also generate considerable operational limitations."
The study also considers potential risks from the release of LNG. In the fire hazard zone, the risk of mortality and property damage from a large fire is considered to be high within 500 metres of the release. The risk of mortality and property damage would be medium for a distance of 500 to 1,600 metres from a release. In a vapour cloud hazard zone, the risk of mortality and health effects from a vapour cloud is considered to be high within a distance of 1,600 metres of a release and to be medium for a distance of 1,600 to 6,000 metres.
In addition, the study looks at potential effects on the marine environment, including whales, the land, fisheries and tourism, and reviews the emergency response systems in place.
© 2007 The Quoddy Tides
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.