Health & Environment Police & Fire

Counter Arguing LNG Tankers Sailing Through Boston Harbor

Adam Balsam makes a case in favor of LNG tankers on his blog:

“In order to ignite the LNG, it would have to be broken free from the multiple tanks which hold it on the ship, released and mixed with air (at a specific ratio – about 1 part NG to 9 parts air) and then be ignited. I have never seen a credible scientific paper published that proves this is even possible much less probable.
Furthermore, Lieutenant Erik Halvorson of the US Coastguard (the branch of our Military responsible for and entrusted with guarding us from such attacks) released the following statement:
“we established a level of security to ensure the ship remains safe”
Are Mayor Menino and Councilor LaMattina then implying that we can’t trust the US Coast Guard? If so, we have a much bigger problem. Personally, I think there is a problem with Menino and LaMattina.”

My view:
Ouch. I believe the residents and politicians fully understand the risk of ignition is small, even minor. But if there were no risk, the Coast Guard would not be taking such extreme safety measures.

MIT Professor, LNG expert and former chair of MassPort, James Fay, explains the risk in the same MSNBC article cited by Balsam, citing the USS Cole terrorist attack in 2000.  “There’s no doubt that with a big enough bomb you can blow a hole in the side of the vessel and the cargo will burn,” Fay said. “It’s well understood that for the big fires we’re talking about that distances like half a mile or so, you can get second-degree burns to exposed skin in about 30 seconds.” There also was a severe tragedy in Cleveland in 1944 when a damaged LNG tank leaked, creating a vapor cloud in the streets and sewers before igniting and killed 128 people.

Beyond public safety in such a densely populated area, there are also a significant quality-of-life issues for the surrounding North End/Charlestown/East Boston neighborhoods. When an LNG tanker comes through the harbor, public access in the harbor and on the waterfront is harshly impeded. Further, the LNG tankers hurt our property values and are inconsistent with the area’s tourist attractions. The LNG tankers negatively impact the public and recreational use of the harbor and waterfront which needs to be “secured” for extended periods every time an LNG tanker comes in and out.

Recently, the City helped arrange for most of the hazardous material trucks from going through downtown and the North End/Waterfront neighborhood. Instead, most were re-routed around the City. Those inside were directed away from the residential streets (and actually, the haz-mat trucks should even be moved off Atlantic Ave/Cross Street over to Congress Street, but that’s another issue).

Just as with the haz-mat trucks, there are much preferable options including off-shore unloading and a reduction in the number of deliveries.  The U.S. also has plenty of its own natural gas, so importing it from foreign countries is not necessary.

In no other U.S. city are these gigantic LNG tankers allowed near such a densely populated area. Neither should they be in Boston.

Related posts:
Coast Guard to Allow Yemen LNG Tankers through Boston Harbor

3 Replies to “Counter Arguing LNG Tankers Sailing Through Boston Harbor

  1. Matt, your "My View" comment is a bow to the screaming panic-mongers. Don’t be a gullible stooge to the political agendas of the Fay’s of the world. He’s right that a "big enough" bomb could do damage, but the fact is that the bomb itself would have to be "big enough" to destroy the North End, because the 1:9 air:gas ratio required for sustained ignition of LNG is very narrow range to sustain. That’s why every natural gas pilot light flame doesn’t migrate upstream in every home furnace to ignite every LNG storage tank in New England. A very small fraction either side of the 1:9 ratio results in an extinguished flame.

    Maybe you didn’t see your high school science teacher put out a flame by pouring liquid gasoline on it. The ignition range of a highly volatile fluid is far too narrow to sustain, let alone propagate, a flame front.

    The North End is increasingly relying on this blog for thoughtful information. Fear-mongering doesn’t serve this community best.

  2. I started with the understanding that the risk is minor. I don’t see how raising an important issue or presenting an opinion (one of several cited in the post) is fear-mongering. My point, which perhaps was lost, is the benefits are small and the cost to the community is large. Obviously, the public safety of Boston’s dense population is paramount. There is also the damage to residential and commercial property values, loss of tourism and the loss of recreational harbor and waterfront access. Boston Harbor has come so far to be clean and accessible. Why risk even a small industrial accident?

    I wonder why anyone would want LNG tankers going through the inner harbor within 50 feet of people’s homes? Does anyone believe this will lower gas bills? No, it won’t. Everett supplies a small fraction of natural gas to the area. It can be easily replaced. Besides the numerous pipelines, there is an off-shore unloading facility in Gloucester and another one soon to come on-line. The need for foreign imports is diminishing and give our dependence on foreign oil, we should encourage domestic production through pipelines. To pretend that terrorism does not exist is wrong. Why is the Coast Guard taking such extreme measures?

    I support Mayor Menino and Councilor LaMattina on this issue. Boston’s population must come first.

  3. Last year on a warm summer evening, I was strolling along Commercial Street across from Battery Wharf when a police motorcycle – blue lights flashing – darted to the railing at the end of the pier. His engine idling, the cop surveyed the inner-harbor for about five minutes before revving the throttle and vanishing back into the night as suddenly as he had appeared. This maneuver raised the eyebrows of passersby who were puzzled by the absence of sirens. Something was happening of obvious concern to law enforcement agencies.

    From past experience, I immediately realized what was ‘going down’ or, more accurately, drifting on the tide. Escorted by a small flotilla of state police and U.S. Coast Guard launches – some mounted with machine-guns – a huge tanker slid silently into the Mystic River channel on the last leg of a voyage to the Everett LNG terminal. I could hear the sound of helicopters hovering in the distance over the Tobin toll booths. By now I knew that a rolling phalanx of police vehicles had traffic backed up in both directions on the ramps and approaches to the bridge. On more than one occasion returning from the NorthShore, my car had been similarly corralled.

    Is fear-mongering the intent of such a show of force? Is this a waste of taxpayers’ money? Is this a useless exercise in homeland security? Or, is it possible – however improbable – that a shoulder-mounted missile/rocket grenade launcher fired from shore or a high-speed boat laden with explosives with a suicide bomber at the wheel could detonate an explosion with the concussive force and fire of a small thermo-nuclear device? If you think such a scenario fanciful or that the danger is exaggerated, find out for yourself why Boston receives a magnificent Christmas tree each year from the citizens of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Spend an hour at the library and learn what happened at 9:04 a.m. on December 6, 1917 when 2000 people died and another 9,000 critically injured in an explosion whose blast was heard as far away as Truro, Massachusetts. **

    The truth is that we really do not know firsthand how devastating an LNG tanker fire triggered by a major incendiary device would be. No one has ever intentionally ignited one of these babies for irrefutable evidence. We do know that Boston is the only major city in the U.S. and beyond with an LNG terminal sited in such a densely populated area. There is no such thing as a fail-safe technology when it comes to the storage and delivery of liquified natural gas. And we can’t rely upon the smug musings of self-styled experts to lull us into a sense of complacency. The survivors of Chernobyl can sadly verify at least that fact.


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