2010-04-22 / Letters to the Editor

‘LNG opposition is clearly NIMBY-ism’

I’ve been home since January. I can’t tell you how many letters and articles I’ve read about this town’s – and this state’s – immense opposition to LNG. There seem to be three overwhelming concerns: Safety, recreation (bridge closures included) and environment.

Safety is paramount, and it should be to a tight-knit community like ours. LNG has encountered only one major safety event in the U.S. It was almost 70 years ago, in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1944.

Since this event, there’s been a slew of legislation and regulation regarding LNG, as there is after almost any major event. Rest assured, LNG safety is highly regulated.

LNG has the best transportation safety record of any liquid cargo carried in bulk. Since the episode in Cleveland – which had absolutely nothing to do with a ship – there have only been eight incidents worldwide on LNG tankers, none of which involved collision, fire, explosion or hull failure. For almost 40 years, a fully loaded LNG tanker has entered and left Japan every 24 hours without incident.

There has been no evidence whatsoever in studies conducted by the Coast Guard and the Dept. of Homeland Security to show that a LNG ship, or terminal, is any more a target than any other ship or terminal. Supposing someone did try to blow up a LNG tanker, a U.S.S. Cole type attack creates one thing: A spill. No massive “LNG fireball” (as claimed by Ellen Winsor recently), just a hole in a boat, spilling liquid that evaporates instantly. LNG itself can’t ignite, and the gas must be contained to ignite.

How many of those opposed are aware that Narragansett Bay is the route to Providence for much more volatile and dangerous liquids with spotted safety records?

Ships loaded with gasoline and LPG – requiring Pell Bridge closures for years – travel up and down the bay regularly. Two of my classmates shipped a load of caustic soda past our shores and under the bridge. Maybe it’s just that none of those words are “buzz” words (unless we’re talking about the price at the pump).

I find it interesting that a 12- minute closure of the bridge was refuted. The math is fairly simple. When we take a vessel traveling at 15 knots – or 15 nautical miles per hour, the time it takes to travel three miles (the exclusion zone of 2 n.m. ahead, and one behind) is exactly 12 minutes. If we can’t wait 12 minutes for lower energy prices, I’d think that says more about our “now culture” than any McDonald’s drivethru or Wal-Mart Super Center ever could.

I find the notion that these 12 minutes could lead to the elimination of marine recreation somewhat laughable. Hess has estimated 70 trips per year. Because there are concerns that this estimate is low, increase it by 50% to 104. Two trips a week, up and down. Do we really believe that an hour of bridge closure and inconvenience to recreation at 15-minute intervals each week will eliminate our “most vital industry?”

I haven’t studied the environmental impact of the dredging required in Mt. Hope Bay. It sounds as if that may be a fair and legitimate concern. However, call the opposition what it is. LNG has an outstanding safety record, in terminals and ships. There is scant evidence to suggest that this terminal and the shipping that comes with it will damage marine recreation. Concerns about explosions and other dangers are ill founded.

This opposition is NIMBY-ism. LNG can go anywhere except here. If it wasn’t NIMBY-ism, why vote down the container port that brings no closures or exclusion zones? The sentiment is that ships ruin regattas, pollute and look ugly. I’m shocked that ships of any kind are still allowed on our waters, especially after last week’s editorial.

The fact is, in this state and this town, it can bring money and thousands of jobs, but if it doesn’t fit our tourist definition of “pretty,” we’re opposed.

With one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, how well is that strategy working? Maybe we could vote no for LNG, but yes for container port?

Who am I kidding?
Shawn D. Ouellette
U.S. Merchant Marine Officer

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