LNG tank dangers criticized
by James Finlaw, Herald
News Staff Reporter, 1/23/2004
MIT Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering James A. Fay made the statements to more than 120 people who gathered at BCC Thursday night to take part in an LNG informational meeting hosted by state Rep. David B. Sullivan, D-Fall River. The meeting was held so Fay could present his report on the impact an LNG terminal could have on Fall River and its neighboring communities.
There were audible gasps from the crowd as Fay described scenarios where residents would be harmed if a terrorist attack or accident were to rupture the massive LNG storage tank Weaver's Cove Energy is proposing to construct at the former Shell Oil site off North Main Street.
Fay displayed aerial photos of the Taunton River, Fall River and Somerset, that had been overlaid with three circles indicating the range of impact a fire at the proposed LNG import terminal could have. Fay said the largest circle represented the area that would be impacted by fire and thermal radiation if the 74,000 tons of LNG contained within the tank were to catch fire. Fay said the resulting fire would likely cause residences near the site to catch fire and would emit thermal radiation capable of giving second-degree burns to residents living within a two-mile radius of the tank site. He said the thermal radiation zone would encompass five square miles in Fall River and five square miles in Somerset.
The diagram also contained a circle identifying the threat range if an LNG tanker moored at the proposed facility were to be attacked, and its contents spilled into the river. Fay said the LNG would spread across the surface of the water, spanning the river from shoreline to shoreline. He said homes and businesses located along the water's edge could catch fire, and that residents living within 6,000 feet of the fire could sustain thermal radiation burns.
The smallest circle on the diagram concerned a fire that did not spread beyond the storage tank itself. Fay said a fire at the tank location would threaten residents living in the neighborhoods located in close proximity to the site.
In all cases, Fay said the thermal radiation, and in some cases fire, would extend far beyond the boundaries of the 68-acre parcel on which Weaver's Cove is proposing to build the LNG terminal. "All three of these spills spill their bad effects outside the facility," said Fay. "It,s enough to give you second-degree burns in 30 seconds," he said.
Fay noted that the federal agency charged with permitting LNG facilities, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has its own set of rules regarding LNG safety standards. However, he said the government regulations do not account for the worst-case scenarios he was highlighting during his presentation. "They talk about small spills ... FERC says nothing about a boat-based attack on a tanker or a truck bomb attack on a land-side tank. Those would create big fires," said Fay.
Many of those in attendance expressed shock at his statements, and a desire to prevent Weaver's Cove from constructing an LNG import terminal on the city's waterfront. "When I first came to the meeting I didn't know anything about this. I learned a lot tonight. I learned how dangerous it is, and how my property value would go down," said Jane Mello of Wilson Road. "A lot more people should become more educated about what can happen," she said.
Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr.
addressed the matter of public involvement in the issue during
the meeting. Lambert has vigorously opposed Weaver's Cove's plans
for the former Shell Oil site since July, when the firm hosted
a public hearing on the project at the Venus de Milo restaurant
in Swansea. Last year, the city formed an LNG task force comprised
of local officials and it was charged with coming up with ways
to pressure the federal and state government to deny Weaver's
Cove the permits it needs to being construction of the 15-acre
LNG facility. Lambert urged the public, specifically North End
residents living near the proposed LNG site, to attend a task
force meeting at the new Fire Department headquarters on Monday
While the majority of the residents
who attended the meeting spoke of the desire to keep the LNG
facility out of Fall River, some questioned whether concerns
about a terrorist attack at the site were valid. Sullivan responded
to a query by resident Joseph Martins regarding the low probability
of a terrorist attack at the proposed LNG facility by asking
what the probability was of hijacked airliners hitting the World
Trade Center. Sullivan's comment generated a burst of applause
from the crowd.
City residents, and a number of residents and officials from Swansea and Somerset, seemed convinced by the presentation, saying they intended to inform the government of their displeasure with the project. "I was just glad to see so many people interested and asking questions. People should be responding to the federal government," said resident MaryAnn Wordell.
Weaver's Cove is a New York-based firm chaired by former Exxon Mobil Corporation Vice Chairman Lucio Noto. The company is seeking federal and state approval to construct a $250 million LNG import terminal in the North End. The terminal would consist of docking facilities, a 185-foot-high, 280-foot-wide LNG storage tank, truck loading facilities, and other LNG apparatus. The company, through its spokesman James Grasso, has maintained that the firm will meet all Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act regulations when constructing the facility. The company submitted its application for approval to the FERC in December. The agency will likely spend at least one year reviewing the hefty document.