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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Coastal Communities Fight LNG Facility Plans

Air Date: Week of

The Matthew carries liquefied natural gas to the LNG import terminal in Everett, Massachusetts. The facility is the oldest LNG plant in the country. At right, two white storage tanks. LNG fuels the power plant in the background. (Photo: courtesy of SUEZ LNG NA)

Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent, Jeff Young continues his conversation with host Steve Curwood about the Senate Energy Bill with the focus on the proposed citing of liquefied natural gas facilities. As the demand for natural gas rises, the U.S. government is planning to build facilities for the production of liquefied natural gas or LNG. Communities along the east and west coasts are concerned about these plans, citing the threat of terrorist attacks and risk of accident. Rachel Gotbaum visited two Massachusetts communities that are opposed to proposals to build LNG plants in their backyards.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. We’re talking energy and the energy bill with our Washington correspondent Jeff Young. Jeff, there was a lot about gas prices in this energy debate, but it’s not just the kind of gas we pump into our cars; the high price of natural gas kept coming up. What’s the concern there?

YOUNG: Well, we found a lot of uses for natural gas because it’s generally a cleaner fuel than the other fossil fuels. So we make electricity with it, we run some busses and cars, we heat homes. Well, when the price of natural gas shot up it, therefore, hit the economy from a lot of angles. Sort of a triple whammy. Heat and power got more expensive and manufacturing and farming are even worse off because for them natural gas is not just a fuel, it’s also an ingredient in a lot of chemicals and fertilizer.

So what to do? Well, the senators have a lot in here to conserve natural gas and expand production over the long haul but, in the short-term, the only real way to bring down prices is to import more and that’s going to mean creating more facilities to unload tanker ships that carry liquefied natural gas, called LNG. The trouble with that is a lot of coastal communities don’t think those LNG facilities will be safe and they don’t want them in their backyards.

CURWOOD: So, local governments don’t want them, the federal government does. Who gets to decide?

YOUNG: Well, basically, the energy bill will give the federal government the final say. This is largely a reaction to some legal challenges that might undermine federal authority and slow down LNG projects. So, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee says the idea is to streamline the permitting process.

ALEXANDER: …to make it simpler, so there’s an orderly way to come to a decision by giving the one federal agency the exclusive signing authority, but state and local governments still have a major input.

YOUNG: Now, of course, one man’s streamlining, is another’s steamrolling.

CURWOOD: And are the state and local governments saying that they are getting cut out of these decisions?

YOUNG: Yes, indeed. And that has brought some big floor fights in both the Senate and the House. Over in the house Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Ed Markey says there’s really no need for this kind of change because many of these LNG facilities have already been successfully permitted with local input in the decisions.

MARKEY: There is nothing which is broken right now. There is no crisis. But the energy industry has petitioned the Bush administration to remove any role by the state and local governments just because they know they can get away with it.

YOUNG: Marquis tried to give states some more power over LNG siting decisions. There was a similar effort in the Senate. Both of them failed narrowly, but Markey and others say they’re going to keep fighting. So this is another very hot issue and it’s going to be one to watch as this bill goes to the conference between the House and Senate and then comes back for final vote.

CURWOOD: Jeff Young is Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent. Thanks ,Jeff.

YOUNG: You’re welcome, Steve.

CURWOOD: As Jeff just mentioned, many coastal communities are concerned about plans to build liquefied natural gas facilities in their neighborhoods. Rachel Gotbaum visited some towns in Massachusetts where the opposition to building new LNG plants is growing.

GOTBAUM: Liquefied natural gas is gas that has been cooled to very low temperatures so that it shrinks in size. The gas is then shipped to U.S. ports in large tankers that bring LNG in from all over the world including from Iran, Algeria, Trinidad and the west coast of Africa.

The Matthew carries liquefied natural gas to the LNG import terminal in Everett, Massachusetts. The facility is the oldest LNG plant in the country. At right, two white storage tanks. LNG fuels the power plant in the background. (Photo: courtesy of SUEZ LNG NA)

There are currently four liquefied natural gas terminals in this country. They were all built in the 1960s and 70s. The oldest one is in Everett, Massachusetts on the Mystic River, a few miles from downtown Boston.


GOTBAUM: On a recent afternoon, Frank Katalak who runs the Everett facility gave a tour. He points to the pumps where the frigid gas is heated and then sent into pipelines.


KATALAK: Right now, we’re hearing actually natural gas, vaporized LNG, leaving the facility. The gas will go into three different places. It goes into two separate interstate pipelines and also into the local gas distribution system which is operated by the local gas utility.


GOTBAUM: If you put your hand in this stuff how long ‘til you get like frostbite?

KATALAK: Well, the LNG inside the pipe is minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, so you would get frostbite immediately.

GOTBAUM: The facility in Everett has two large storage tanks and is located on 37 acres in an industrial area.

KATALAK: From the platform on top of tanker number one, you can see our neighbors. That’s the city of Everett up on the hill there. Looking in this direction we see the Mystic River. That’s the Tobin Bridge in the background and to our south is Boston, right downtown.

GOTBAUM: This LNG terminal supplies enough gas for power plants to heat more than one million homes each day in New England. The region is one of the most dependent on natural gas in the U.S., especially in winter. Katalak says he’s worried that there’s not enough of it to run businesses and heat homes.

KATALAK: I’m concerned that the demand continues to increase and we continue to build new power plants with this environmentally-friendly fuel and nobody’s ever considered where this stuff is gonna come from.

GOTBAUM: As it stands now, says Katalak, New England has no buffer supply of natural gas.

KATALAK: In January 2004, we had a very cold day here in Boston, and even with all the pipelines operating at capacity, even with this facility operating capacity, the local distribution company couldn’t get enough gas to one of the towns not far from Boston and had to shut it off. And people went without heat until the weather warmed up. The town of Hull was evacuated.

GOTBAUM: There are currently about 40 proposals by energy companies to build LNG terminals on the east coast and west. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, says at least two new LNG ports need to be placed in New England.

One proposed site is for Fall River, Massachusetts, a working class city south of Boston on the Rhode Island border. Not far from the downtown waterfront along the Taunton River is a former oil refinery where the new LNG plant would go.

MIYOZZA: Come on outside and I’ll show you where, you know, this is where my concern is.


GOTBAUM: Michael Miyozza lives up the hill near where the facility would be built.

MIYOZZA: If my grandchildren are playing outside here, as you can see on this side here, we have a dead end street and the terminal is just gonna be down a half mile here. And so if something were to happen, if we have to escape, we’re going to be heading into the flames, into the thermal radiation.

GOTBAUM: Miyozza is one of hundreds of city residents who are fighting the proposed facility. Fall River officials have also led a vocal opposition to the project. Ed Lambert is the city’s mayor.

LAMBERT: It seems to me there’s a rush to site these facilities while this administration is in office down in Washington without regard to public safety. They are making significant and serious mistakes that will not be corrected if there’s an accident or a tragedy.

GOTBAUM: Last year, the Sandia National Laboratories came out with a study evaluating the possible consequences of a terrorist attack or accident on one of the large LNG tankers. Although the report contends that safety measures could be put in place to mitigate the results of an incident, it found that a rupture in the tanker could cause a major fire and could also create a vapor cloud that might drift and ignite.

LAMBERT: There are 9,000 people that live within one mile of this proposed facility.

GOTBAUM: Fall River Mayor Ed Lambert.

LAMBERT: When you consider that the Sandia labs have said that within two thirds of a mile people would suffer severe pain within ten seconds, second degree burns within thirty seconds, and third degree burns within forty seconds of a vapor cloud ignition that could come from a hole in the tanker ship or something that would happen on site. That is not something that people should be subjected to.

GOTBAUM: Officials from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission say they take all the scientific studies into account before they decide where to place new LNG terminals. Mark Robinson is with FERC.

ROBINSON: We believe from the analysis that we do that given the consequences that could occur with any type of energy infrastructure that if we can conclude that it can be done safely, then that is something that is in the public interest given their demand for energy.

GOTBAUM: The Sandia report contends that the probability of an intentional accident on an LNG tanker is low. Robinson and other federal officials agree and say that neither LNG tankers nor terminals make attractive terrorist targets.

ROBINSON: There has never been an accident in an LNG tanker, there has never been a lost cargo in forty-plus years of LNG tankers moving all over the world. So you’ve got that history that nothing has ever happened. On top of that, you have three agencies that are working together--the Coast Guard, the FERC, and the Department of Transportation--who review every possibility in terms of how somebody might be able to gain access to these facilities and do damage and develop safety and security measures to insure that we believe tankers can move through waters and be safe.

GOTBAUM: But that argument doesn’t satisfy everyone. Richard Clarke was anti-terrorism chief for the both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. He says the government needs to change its strategy in a post-9/11 world because groups like Al Qaeda have already proven that LNG facilities are vulnerable to attack.

CLARKE: Do they have the intent of attacking such a facility? Yes. Do they have a history of going after ships? Yes. Do they have a history of using our own infrastructure against us as weapons? Yes. We believe that they have demonstrated repeatedly that they have the capability to conduct large-scale terrorist attacks. Moreover, they have demonstrated that they have the sophistication for the use of the kinds of weapons that would cause an LNG tanker to become a large-scale fire.

GOTBAUM: Clarke and others say new LNG terminals should not be placed in densely populated neighborhoods but in remote areas including locations offshore. There is currently one off-shore LNG port in the world, which was recently built off the coast of Louisiana. But at least a dozen more are being proposed up and down the east coast of the United States. For many residents who live in these coastal areas, offshore is not the answer to the country’s energy needs either.


GOTBAUM: On Gloucester Harbor, north of Boston, fishermen are unloading their daily catch of cod, flounder and monkfish.


GOTBAUM: An offshore LNG facility is being proposed ten miles out from here. The platform where the tankers would unload the liquefied natural gas and pump it into an existing pipeline would include a five mile security exclusion zone. That would mean the fishermen who depend on the area for their livelihood would be prevented from fishing there.

BRYSON: My name is Roger. Roger Bryson. I got a hook boat called “The Blue Dagger.”

GOTBAUM: Roger Bryson has been catching fish in and around Gloucester for the last 25 years. He says he doesn’t want an offshore LNG facility placed in the middle of important fishing grounds.

BRYSON: Of course, it threatens the fishery or, you know, anything near where we’re fishing. We’re gonna be shut out from the area that they’re gonna put that thing in there, so we, a lot of us, don’t like the idea. If they gonna do it, they can do it some place else.

GOTBAUM: Many of the residents of Gloucester are fighting the LNG proposal, including local activist Niaz Dory.

DORY: If you allow the liquid natural gas facility to be sited ten miles off of here, the security zone alone will displace more fishing boats, not to mention if there is, God forbid, any accident whatsoever. What impact would that have on the marine environment?

GOTBAUM: Neither federal officials, nor the industry view offshore LNG facilities as a panacea either. They are untested, more expensive to build, and the gas cannot be stored at sea. And there’s also the weather to consider, especially in New England, says Mark Robinson of FERC.

ROBINSON: And if a storm comes up during the worst part of the winter and you’ re used to getting half a billion cubic feet per day out of a facility and it suddenly shuts down and there is no storage to support it, you’ve lost a big hunk of your gas during the worst time that you could lose it.

GOTBAUM: The federal government expects the country’s dependence on foreign exports of fuel to continue to grow, and it sees natural gas as eventually overtaking coal and rivaling oil as a leading source of energy. With this in mind, the Bush administration says it will give the okay to at least ten new LNG terminals both on and offshore. The first that is likely to be approved by FERC is the one proposed for Fall River, Massachusetts. If that happens, lifelong resident Michael Miyozza says he will have to leave his home.

MIYOZZA: I couldn’t stay here. I couldn’t bring up my grandkids here. No, we’d have to leave and I would do it at a loss in my house. I would lose the equity in my house but I don’t believe anybody would want to come to near where there is a potential bomb.

GOTBAUM: FERC has already given a preliminary thumbs up to placing a new LNG terminal in Fall River. Commission members plan to vote on June 30th. In the meantime, city officials and residents of Fall River have vowed to stop the project and even go to court if necessary. For Living on Earth, I’m Rachel Gotbaum in Boston.

[MUSIC: “A Little Ethnic Song” J. Mascis: Guitarrosists (No.6) 1991]



Suez Energy North America

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)

Sandia National Laboratories Report

Center for LNG

Ratepayers for Affordable, Clean Energy (California)

Conservation Law Foundation – Southern New England LNG


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