2010-04-08 / Editorial

LNG: A ‘wolf in grandma’s dress’

By Ellen Winsor

Any day now, a federal agency could issue its conclusions on the environmental impacts of a LNG terminal proposed for Mt. Hope Bay by Hess LNG.

If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decides that this “offshore” facility – gorged by titanic volumes of LNG – does not pose a devastating risk to Narragansett Bay and our coastal communities, the regulatory road to a final permit will be wide open.

The Environmental Impact Statement will be as thick as the Boston telephone directory, but the public will have only 60 days in which to review the findings and submit a response.

That’s not very much time. In fact, relatively speaking, it’s about as much time as Little Red Riding Hood had to study the dress that the wolf was wearing.

Meanwhile, as we await the FERC decision, Hess LNG President and CEO Gordon Shearer continues to deluge the media with tired old arguments that do not address the dangers that his LNG shipments would pose – much less acknowledge the availability of recently discovered gas reserves in the U.S.

Unlike Shearer’s LNG, which comes from foreign sources, the vast American reserves are located in the Appalachian Basin states – which means the gas could be delivered to New England through ordinary pipelines.

Known as the Marcellus Shale, these gas reserves, if estimates of 489 trillion cubic feet hold, “makes the Marcellus the second-largest natural gas field in the world; only a massive offshore reserve shared by Iran and Qatar is larger,” according to an article titled “Natural Gas Changes the Energy Map,” published in the journal, MIT Technology Review.

And yet, Shearer wants to feed our addiction to foreign hydrocarbons by providing yet another U.S. distribution facility for them. Is it worth the risk when we have all that gas in Pennsylvania?

Is it worth allowing LNG tankers, regulated primarily by their countries of origin, to plow through the Bay – past Jamestown, Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Bristol, Somerset, Swansea and two Indian tribes holding waterfront lands, to Fall River’s tightly-woven, densely populated neighborhoods?

Those of us who live perilously close to a potential LNG fireball say, “No!”

But profits are a terribly powerful driver, and the premium we pay for natural gas in Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts makes that “wolf in grandma’s dress” lick his chops. Never mind that the road to profits would destroy more than 70 acres of critical winter flounder spawning grounds in Mt. Hope Bay.

Never mind that the tankers would practically scrape the roadbeds of our bridges. Never mind that our Turnpike and Bridge Authority has warned that the bridges would be shut down when the tankers pass below. Never mind that the “security bubbles” around the tankers would severely disrupt our maritime commerce, cruise ship visits and recreational fishing, boating and sailing.

To deliver the LNG from the berthing facility to a terminal in Fall River, Hess LNG would bury a cryogenic pipeline in the sediments of Mt. Hope Bay. Never mind that this is untested engineering.

And, never mind that liquid natural gas does not like water: If water ever trickled into the cryogenic pipeline, the super-cold liquefied gas meeting relatively warm water would expand with tremendous explosive force.

In the event of an accident with this unproven LNG pipe line, natural gas vapors would burst to the surface through the water and begin to look for an ignition source.

And, never mind that Hess LNG is proposing to bury the pipe underwater within one mile of the densely populated neighborhoods of Fall River.

Like all the urban areas in southeastern New England, Fall River is economically depressed. Hess LNG claims that building its LNG facility will provide 400 to1,000 temporary jobs. They’re also claiming that the completed facility will provide up to 50 permanent jobs.

Fifty permanent jobs?

That’s the pay-off for the risks to our Bay and our coastal communities? Last year, gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale provided 43,000 permanent jobs – and that employment level will soar towards 120,000 by 2020.

The Marcellus Shale will keep those people employed well into the 21st century. Terry Engelder, professor of GeoScience at Penn State, says the Marcellus Shale gas has the energy equivalent of 81 billion barrels of oil.

Compare that to the total oil reserves within the U.S. and its territorial waters: 21 billion barrels – or just a quarter of the potential energy available in the Marcellus Shale.

We should be celebrating this discovery! And yet, Hess LNG wants to build another monument to our outdated and self-defeating reliance on those foreign hydrocarbons.

Hess LNG, drop this project and make us proud by focusing corporate might and dollars on research that will make America energy innovators, with ideas yet to be imagined in the world.

Ellen Winsor, a Jamestown Town Council member, is founder – along with John Shannon – of the Jamestown LNG Working Group, a think tank formed to research local LNG issues.

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