State rules allowing the importation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) were approved by the California Public Utilities Commission on September 21 over the objections of environmental activist groups.
The rules do not approve any specific project, but establish quality standards for port facilities, storage facilities, and pipelines, as well as procedures for the purchase of LNG by utilities. The purpose of the rules, which took effect immediately, is to provide guidelines by which LNG purchasers and providers can plan future imports.
Five LNG ports are currently proposed by importers and energy companies for the California coast.
California derives nearly half of its electrical power from natural gas, but the state currently does not have any LNG port facilities. Congress, the Bush administration, and California state agencies strongly support the construction of such facilities to provide natural gas to California and surrounding states, but environmental activists are pushing hard to block construction.
14 Miles from Shore
Speaking at a September 29 campaign event, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides, who is currently state treasurer, echoed activists’ concerns and made the construction of offshore LNG ports a political issue. Angelides, speaking in Malibu, singled out a port facility proposed offshore between Malibu and Oxnard.
“This coastline is one of our most precious assets,” Angelides told his political supporters. “We cannot despoil our coast with these LNG facilities.”
“This project is more than 14 miles from the closest point to shore,” countered Pat Cassidy, a spokesman for BHP Billiton, in a September 30 Los Angeles Times article. BHP Billiton, a global energy and minerals resources firm, is hoping to build the LNG facility. “For 11 of 12 months of the year, it won’t be seen from shore. It’s on the edge of the horizon and it will be a speck.”
Safety Fears Unsubstantiated
Angelides attempted to stoke fear among his supporters about the safety of LNG facilities, claiming “this plant would be like a Hindenburg on steroids.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), however, tells a different story. On its Web site, http://www.ferc.gov, FERC notes, “In the past 40 years there have been more than 33,000 LNG ship voyages without a significant accident or [breach of] cargo security.
“In addition,” FERC reports, “Congress passed the US Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, which requires all ports to have federally approved security plans. Detailed security assessments of LNG facilities and vessels are also required.”
Liquid Is Non-Combustible
The chemical properties of LNG are themselves an additional safety mechanism. In its liquid form, natural gas is non-combustible. The LNG must warm and gasify for there to be any risk of combustion. In addition, because LNG is lighter than air, it quickly rises and dissipates, making ignition unlikely.
Moreover, a very precise ratio of natural gas to air (a narrow window between 5 and 15 percent natural gas) is necessary for such ignition to take place.
Because the natural gas dissipates quickly, it is highly unlikely for a density of 5 percent gas ever to occur. Even then, an ignition source must be present at just the right time, place, and gas-to-air ratio before ignition can take place.
Stringently monitored federal, state, and industry safety guidelines isolate the natural gas from potential sources of ignition. LNG is shipped in nearly impregnable multi-containment storage chambers with alternating walls of thick concrete and high-nickel steel. Elaborate, multi-tiered, computer monitoring systems ensure no rupture or leakage occurs unnoticed.
James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
For more information …
LNG Safety Record, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, http://www.ferc.gov/industries/lng/safety/safety-record.asp