LNG Tanker Safety Sparks Appeal

Daily Astorian | Oct. 26, 2012 1:35 p.m. | Updated: Oct. 26, 2012 8:35 p.m.

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The Daily Astorian

Daily Astorian

WARRENTON — Citizen groups have filed a lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge the safety of proposed liquefied natural gas tankers on the Columbia River.

Columbia Riverkeeper, Columbia-Pacific Commonsense and Wahkiakum Friends of the River are asking the U.S. Coast Guard to take a hard look at threats to communities, such as explosions and “cascading failures” of LNG, and impacts to the environment. 

The lawsuit challenges the U.S. Coast Guard’s green light for the proposed Oregon LNG terminal and associated LNG tanker traffic. 

There was no immediate comment from the Coast Guard on the appeal.

Oregon LNG’s terminal would be located on 96 acres of state-owned land on the Skipanon Peninsula between the Skipanon River and Youngs Bay in Warrenton. Opponents are worried, in part, because they say one LNG tanker alone is bigger than three football fields and towers 20-stories high.

According to Oregon LNG’s filings, its terminal will require roughly 125 new ships crossing the Columbia River bar – inbound and outbound – every year.  Each departing tanker would carry a staggering eight percent of total U.S. daily gas consumption. 

Oregon LNG and its connected pipeline proposals would build hundreds of miles of high-pressure natural gas pipeline that would cut through farms, forests, the Columbia River Estuary and residential properties. 

Federal law requires the Coast Guard to issue a letter of recommendation on the suitability of the Columbia River for LNG tanker traffic as it relates to safety and security.  In 2009, the Coast Guard issued its determination, finding that the Columbia River is not currently suitable for LNG traffic, but could be made suitable.

At the time, the Coast Guard was reviewing the Warrenton site, the now defunct Bradwood Landing project inland from Astoria and the Jordan Cove site in Coos Bay. It concluded that the waterways “could be made suitable” for LNG delivery tankers, including the large Q-Max tankers, at Warrenton. But it highlighted several safety and security issues including surveillance cameras that would need to be addressed.

For the Columbia River LNG projects, the report said tankers would need to have Coast Guard escort boats and firefighting tugs close by at all times along with a 500-yard moving security zone surrounding them in the shipping channel and a 200-yard security zone around them while they’re berthed. Some of the security measures are not released to the public.

At the time, LNG supporters said larger tankers would mean fewer trips.

The Coast Guard analysis failed to convince opponents.

Following a lengthy administrative appeal process, the citizens’ groups filed a lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the Coast Guard’s decision to issue its recommendation before preparing an Environmental Impact Statement and considering the impacts on endangered species. The challenge contends that the U.S. Coast Guard violated the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a thorough analysis of the impacts, and the Endangered Species Act, which requires the Coast Guard to consult with fisheries agencies. 

 “The Coast Guard failed to comply with the law when it gave the OK for LNG traffic. They failed to consider the new threat of export, failed to engage stakeholders, and failed to take a hard look at the impacts as required by federal law,” stated Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director for Columbia Riverkeeper. 

“The safety risks of LNG are staggering,” he said. “Our federal agencies must consider the public safety of fishermen on the Columbia and residents in Warrenton and Astoria.”

Cheryl Johnson, a retired school librarian and Clatsop County resident, added, “The Coast Guard has a responsibility to protect the public. To put it simply, they’ve let us down. We urge the Coast Guard and other agencies charged with looking out for the public to protect our communities from LNG.”

Oregon LNG recently announced its plans to join with Williams Pipeline’s proposed Washington Expansion Project – involving 140 miles of new pipeline construction through Washington – to ship natural gas overseas to Asia, where consumers pay much higher prices for energy.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the exportation of natural gas as LNG will increase energy natural gas prices for U.S. consumers by up to 54 percent.

This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.


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