Quantcast
Energy

Cove Point Fracked Gas Export Facility vs. Safety of 24,000 Residents

As a resident of the town of Lusby, MD, where a Virginia-based energy giant Dominion Resources wants to build a massive $3.8 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility, I've sought out and received a significant education on the safety risks inherent in this industry over the past year. In the process, I've returned again and again to this question: Is my safety—and that of the thousands of families living within several miles of this project—a significant concern to federal regulators?

These are facts, not mere speculation: on Sept. 13, 2013, a gas processing facility partly owned by Dominion Resources exploded  in Natrium, WV. On March 31, an LNG plant exploded in Plymouth, WA, injuring five workers and rupturing an LNG storage tank, resulting in the formation of a flammable vapor gas cloud. On April 23, another major gas processing facility exploded in Opal, WY, forcing the evacuation of the entire town of about 95 residents.

These facts are highly significant because the potential consequences of a similar explosion at Dominion's proposed Cove Point LNG export facility in Lusby could be far more severe.

No other LNG export facility proposed in the U.S. would be located so close to so many people. My neighbor Dale Allison, a former aerospace engineer with the Navy, has dug into what that could mean for our community, and his findings are alarming. He found a 2006 report by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources showing that a flash fire from a LNG storage tank at Dominion's current import facility could already threaten a 4,265-foot “consequence zone” around the plant—an area which includes hundreds of homes. Dominion's current proposal would require the addition of new hazardous facilities to supercool the gas and require expanded transportation and storage of highly volatile chemicals, like liquid propane, involved in that process. And, as another Lusby neighbor, Lili Sheeline, wrote to our local newspaper, the Calvert Recorder, Dominion's facility will have far more equipment “squeezed in” to a facility footprint only a fraction larger than the one that exploded in Wyoming, “posing a far greater risk of accidents ... that could spiral out of control.”

These facts are significant because in the previously mentioned explosions, the area of evacuation was much smaller than the densely populated area surrounding Cove Point. The fire at Natrium burned for seven hours. Four hundred people in a two-mile radius were evacuated in Plymouth, across the river. The explosion could be felt as far away as six miles. In Opal, 95 residents in a five mile radius were evacuated.

By comparison, in Lusby there are 2,473 people living within one mile around Dominion Cove Point. In addition to nearly 600 homes, there are several schools, daycare and senior facilities, churches, and a major public park in close proximity to Cove Point. The zip code of Lusby—of which Cove Point is a part—is home to more than 24,000 residents according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and is serviced by an all-volunteer fire department. Recently, a local assistant fire chief, Mickey Shymansky, resigned over concerns that this department is neither trained nor equipped to handle an LNG-related emergency.

For months, my neighbors and I have been demanding answers. How will everyone evacuate in the case of a catastrophic event? How far could potential vapor gas cloud or flash fire catastrophes spread into the neighborhoods right next door? Is the 60-foot-tall, three-quarter-mile long barrier wall Dominion has proposed building along the perimeter really for “sound abatement,” as Dominion originally claimed, or “vapor cloud containment,” as the company later confirmed to federal regulators, or “fire-blocking,” as Dominion apparently told Shymansky?

The response to these questions from Dominion and local officials has been utterly insufficient. One of my Lusby neighbors was told by the Calvert Emergency Planning Office that, in event of an evacuation, Cove Point residents could drive under a burning vapor cloud to the neighboring, highly populated development of Chesapeake Ranch Estates, with its maze of winding roads. How ridiculous is that? If there is a viable emergency evacuation plan, no one within the county government or Dominion has bothered to share it with the public—perhaps because none exists and perhaps because no one has figured out how to evacuate so many people via a two-lane road that would turn into major gridlock in a matter of minutes.

Equally troubling, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) appears to agree that the people of Lusby are insignificant. Although numerous individuals and environmental groups pleaded for a full Environmental Impact Statement for Dominion's proposed export facility, on May 15, FERC issued a limited draft Environmental Assessment. It failed to even list the more than 24,000 residents of Lusby as a nearby “population center.” It failed to include an updated human risk assessment—required under 2013 National Fire Protection Association standards—to quantify the potential threat to nearby homes from potential vapor cloud, flash fire or explosion hazards.  It failed to address Dominion Cove Point’s proximity to the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, three miles north, and to the naval aviation base across the Patuxent River. By all appearances, FERC is poised to merely rubber-stamp Dominion’s application, as it has done with so many other gas industry applications across the country.

This is why the Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community are joining thousands of Americans to rally at FERC headquarters in Washington, D.C. on July 13. FERC needs to know that we will not stand by while the safety of the residents of Cove Point and Lusby is placed at risk.

We must tell FERC that residents of southern Calvert County will not be treated like human test dummies. If you agree, please join us on July 13 to let FERC know that the battle has just begun.

 

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Popular
iStock

How Trump Could Undermine the U.S. Solar Boom

By Llewelyn Hughes and Jonas Meckling

Tumbling prices for solar energy have helped stoke demand among U.S. homeowners, businesses and utilities for electricity powered by the sun. But that could soon change.

President Donald Trump—whose proposed 2018 budget would slash support for alternative energy—may get a new opportunity to undermine the solar power market by imposing duties that could increase the cost of solar power high enough to choke off the industry's growth.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Richard Branson's Necker Island was hit by two hurricanes in two weeks. Richard Branson/Instagram

Richard Branson to Donald Trump: The Whole World Knows Climate Change is Real

Virgin Group founder and longtime environmentalist Richard Branson, who faced two damaging hurricanes in a row from his home in the British Virgin Islands, called out President Donald Trump's refusal to accept the science of climate change.

"Look, you can never be 100 percent sure about links," the British billionaire said Tuesday on CNN's "New Day" when asked about the correlation between global warming and the recent string of major hurricanes to hit the Carribean and the United States.

Keep reading... Show less
Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois. Prison ecology advocates are celebrating the launch of a new prisons layer to the EPA's environmental justice mapping tool, but still hope the EPA will expand inspection and enforcement activities related to prisons. Rw2 / Wikipedia

EPA Adds Prison Locations to Its Environmental Justice Mapping Tool

By Zoe Loftus-Farren

As an environmental reporter, it's not every day that I get to communicate good news—the state of our environment often feels pretty bleak. But today, at least, there is a victory to celebrate: Thanks to the persistence of a small group of prison ecology advocates, the support of their allies, and the assistance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), prisoners rights and environmental justice advocates have a new tool to add to their activist arsenal.

This summer, the EPA added a "prisons layer" to its Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool. Known as EJSCREEN for short, the tool can be used by the public to assess possible exposure to pollutants that might be present in the environment (i.e., land, air and water) where they live or work.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Kevin Vallely

'Rowing the Northwest Passage' Chronicles An Expedition Through the Changing North

By Kevin Vallely

In 2013 four adventurers set out on an 80-day rowboat mission through the Arctic's rapidly melting Northwest Passage. Their journey brought them face to face with the changing seas in a world of climate change. In this excerpt from adventurer Kevin Vallely's new book about the expedition, Rowing the Northwest Passage (Greystone Books), we also see how climate change has affected some of the people the team met along their journey:

An elderly woman walks toward us from the road. Tuktoyaktuk, in the Northwest Territories, is a sizable town by Arctic standards, with a full-time population of 954, but it's small enough that the bulk of the town likely knows we're here. The woman is smiling when she reaches us.

"I saw you coming in," she says. "Where you guys come from?" "We're from Vancouver," I say, my mouth still half full of food. "We started our trip in Inuvik nine days ago." Her name is Eileen Jacobsen and she's an Elder in town. She and her husband, Billy, run a sightseeing business. "You should come up to the house in the morning and have some coffee," she tells us.

Our night's sleep in the Arctic Joule is fitful; our overindulgence runs through all of us like a thunderstorm. By seven in the morning, even with both hatches open, lighting a match in the cabin would blow us out like dirt from that Siberian crater. The roar of the Jetboil pulls me out. Frank's already up, down jacket on, preparing coffee. "You like a cup?"

It's still too early to drop by Eileen Jacobsen's house, so we walk into town on the dusty main road, our ears assaulted by a cacophony of barking dogs. Dirt is the surface of choice for roads and runways in Arctic communities, as any inflexible surface like concrete would be shredded by the annual freeze–thaw cycle. Most of the town runs the length of a thin finger of land, with the ocean on one side and a protected bay on the other. About halfway down the peninsula, a cluster of wooden crosses rests in a high grass clearing, facing west. We heard about this graveyard in Inuvik. Because of melting permafrost and wave action, it's eroding into the sea, and community members have lined the shore with large rocks to forestall its demise. This entire peninsula will face this threat in the coming years. There's not much land here to hold back a hungry ocean.

We notice an elderly man in a blue winter jacket staring at us a short distance away. He's sitting outside a small wooden house and smiles as we approach. "You guys must be the rowers," he says. "Too windy to be out rowing." His jacket hood is pulled tight over his ball cap and he dons a pair of wraparound shades with yellow lenses that would better suit a racing cyclist than a village Elder. His name is Fred Wolki, and he's lived in Tuk for the last fifty years. "I grew up on my father's boat until they sent me to school in 1944, then I came here."

His father, Jim Wolki, is a well-known fox trapper who transported his pelts from Banks Island to Herschel Island aboard his ship the North Star of Herschel Island. Interestingly, we had the Arctic Joule moored right beside the North Star at the Vancouver Maritime Museum before we left. Built in San Francisco in 1935, the North Star plied the waters of the Beaufort Sea for over thirty years, her presence in Arctic waters playing an important role in bolstering Canadian Arctic sovereignty through the Cold War.

"We're curious if things have changed much here since you were a boy," Frank says.

"Well … it's getting warmer now," Fred says, shaking his head. He gestures out to the water speaking slowly and pausing for long moments between thoughts. "Right up to the 1960s … there was old ice along the coast … The ice barely moved … It was grounded along the coastline." He looks out over the shoreline, moving his arm back and forth. "They started to fade away slowly in the 1960s … icebergs … They were huge, like big islands … They were so high, like the land at the dew Line station … over there." He points to the radar dome of the long decommissioned Distant Early Warning Line station that sits on a rise of land just east of us. "It's been twenty years since we've seen one in Tuk." There's no sentimentality or anger in Fred's voice; he's just telling us his story. "It's getting warmer now … Global warming is starting to take its toll … All the permafrost is starting to melt … Water is starting to eat away our land."

I listen to his words, amazed. There's no agenda here, no vested interest, no job creation or moneymaking—just an elderly man bearing witness to his changing world.

Excerpted from Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea by Kevin Vallely, published September 2017 by Greystone Books. Condensed and reproduced with permission from the publisher.

Sponsored
www.youtube.com

Hundreds Dead in Mexico After Earthquake Strikes on Anniversary of Devastating 1985 Quake

In Mexico, a massive 7.1-magnitude quake struck 100 miles southeast of Mexico City Tuesday, collapsing dozens of buildings around the capital city and trapping schoolchildren, workers and residents beneath the rubble.

At least 217 people are dead, and hundreds more are missing. Among the dead are least 21 students at a primary school in Mexico City and 15 worshipers who died during a Catholic mass when the earthquake triggered an eruption at a volcano southeast of the city.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Fourth St. sign under water in San Francisco. Scott Schiller/Flickr

San Francisco Becomes First Major U.S. City to Sue Fossil Fuel Industry Over Costs of Climate Change

San Francisco and Oakland are suing Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell—the five biggest investor-owned fossil fuel producers in the world—over the costs of climate change.

The two Californian cities join the counties of Marin, San Mateo and San Diego and the city of Imperial Beach that have taken similar legal action in recent months, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
www.youtube.com

Climate Alliance States Show Us What Real Leadership Looks Like

By Luis Martinez and Kit Kennedy

In a forceful show of climate leadership, Governors Andrew Cuomo (NY), Jerry Brown (CA), and Jay Inslee (WA) and former Secretary of State John Kerry came together in New York City Wednesday as part of Climate Week to celebrate the progress and growth of the U.S. Climate Alliance, the bipartisan coalition that has grown to 14 states dedicated to meeting the Paris agreement climate goal. The coalition was founded by Cuomo, Brown and Inslee after President Trump announced the U.S. intent to withdraw from Paris.

President Trump may prefer to pretend that climate change isn't real—Gov. Cuomo quipped that the Trump administration is in "the State of Denial"—but these leaders detailed the extraordinary strides they're making, in the absence of White House leadership, to slash greenhouse gas emissions and grow their economies at the same time. For New Yorkers, it's exciting to see Cuomo's leadership on clean energy and climate continue to accelerate, from setting strong renewable energy goals, to a successful push with other Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative states to further slash carbon emissions, to banning fracking.

Keep reading... Show less
www.facebook.com

Hurricane Maria Devastates Puerto Rico

By Andy Rowell

As new Hurricane Maria brings devastation to Puerto Rico, the governor of the island, Ricardo Rossello, has asked Donald Trump to declare the U.S. territory a disaster zone.

He has said that Maria could be the most damaging hurricane to hit the country in more than 100 years.

With maximum recorded wind speeds of 140 mph and rainfall of up to 25 inches or even higher, Mike Brennan, a senior hurricane specialist from the U.S. National Hurricane Center has also warned locals of flash-flooding and "punishing" rainfall. He added that the storm would remain "very dangerous" for the next couple of days.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox