In Light of Washington LNG Explosion, Community Demands Answers to Cove Point Export Terminal Concerns
The liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility explosion that rocked a Plymouth, WA, community on Monday, March 31, has Lusby residents demanding answers about a proposed expansion that would enable the Dominion Cove Point liquefied natural gas terminal to become an LNG export facility. The incident should also reignite debate on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) role as a sole siting authority and safety regulator, given the agency’s apparent ongoing failure to fully consider the worst-case, compound safety risks of locating LNG facilities within close proximity to people’s homes.
In light of the concerns and questions outlined below, Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community is demanding that FERC complete an objective and transparent quantitative risk assessment for Dominion's proposed LNG export facility—an assessment open to public scrutiny and including all potential mishaps, including the worst-case domino effect of explosions like the one that occurred last week in Plymouth.
If FERC refuses to do such an analysis, we call on Gov. O’Malley (D-MD) to order the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to conduct a similarly thorough updated risk analysis. With our and our neighbors’ lives literally on the line, we deserve no less.
WHAT WE KNOW: Dominion’s plan for Cove Point poses unique safety risks and vulnerabilities that could make the consequences of a similar explosion far more severe.
The still unexplained explosion and subsequent fire at the Williams Northwest Pipeline Facility in Washington State shook homes more than a mile away, injuring five workers and sending a “mushroom cloud” of black smoke into the air, according to the Associated Press. Of special concern to Lusby residents, shrapnel from the explosion caused the failure of a single containment LNG storage tank, which led to the formation of a flammable vapor cloud and the evacuation of residents within a two-mile radius. As reported by Reuters, local authorities feared that a second blast could level a 0.75 mile "lethal zone" around the plant.
The day after the horrific incident, LNG expert Jerry Havens, who helped develop the vapor dispersion models that federal regulators used until recently to evaluate hazards from similar facilities, went on record with The Oregonian:
We’re still learning about the safety of all these ventures because we’re moving into a whole new area where we’re handling such large amounts of LNG. … We’re talking about so much energy and so much potential for a catastrophic event to occur. We should really think about whether we should allow these things to be built close to any population center.
The events in Plymouth, WA, were a chilling warning for Lusby residents, especially given the following factors:
- The tanks in Plymouth were single containment tanks, considered the lowest integrity tanks with respect to protecting nearby residents from LNG spills and the resulting flammable vapor clouds.
- The tanks at Cove Point are also single containment tanks. Yet, it should be noted that the largest tanks at the Cove Point terminal are designed to hold more than twice as much LNG volume as the tanks in Plymouth, WA.
- Unlike the Plymouth site, which is in a relatively remote area, the Cove Point site is located within 4,500 feet of approximately 360 homes and is adjacent to a public park.
- The proposed Cove Point export terminal footprint would crowd together additional hazardous processes that the Plymouth site doesn’t have, including a large scale liquefaction train utilizing high pressure, highly explosive liquefied propane gas.
WHY WE’RE CONCERNED: Dominion’s export plan is inherently more dangerous. Meanwhile, a state risk analysis from 2006 indicates that flash fire hazards ALREADY extend offsite at Cove Point, contradicting Dominion and FERC assurances.
If approved, the Dominion facility will be only the second LNG export facility ever built in the lower 48 states and will be the only LNG export facility to ever be built in such a densely populated area. LNG export terminals are believed to be inherently more hazardous than LNG import terminals. The explosion of a liquefaction train at an LNG export terminal in Algeria in 2004 caused massive devastation, killing 27 people and injuring more than 70 people.
FERC is well aware of the Algeria incident—they sent representatives to study it. Bill Powers, an engineer based in California who has studied LNG terminals, along with siting issues for both onshore and offshore proposals, also studied the Skikda, Algeria plant disaster. Noting that Halliburton engineers had missed a weak link in their safety planning for the facility, Powers delivered this stern warning:
That highlights the importance of putting these facilities in places where, no matter what, people will not be at risk. If a company like Halliburton missed a scenario that could cause this, that tells us that we cannot account for all possible accident scenarios at LNG facilities.
The members of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community are demanding answers that go beyond the mere assurances Dominion executives have given citizens and local leaders that no risks from the new expansion will go offsite. In fact, Lusby citizens have recently become aware of a report commissioned by the Maryland DNR that appears to directly contradict Dominion’s assurances:
- Apparently, Maryland DNR officials were tasked with producing an independent risk analysis of the 2006 Cove Point expansion, which included the two largest LNG single containment tanks on the site today.
- The DNR report was a quantitative risk assessment that looked at every possible mishap scenario, including terrorism. The DNR report clearly shows that risks DO extend offsite as the plant exists today.
- Indeed, if one of the new Cove Point tanks were to rupture and spill all of its contents, according to a chart on page 23 of that report, citizens within 1,300 meters (4,265 ft.) of that failed storage tank could be exposed to a fatal flash fire risk.
The DNR study of the last expansion appears to be much more extensive from a safety perspective than the limited prescriptive hazard assessment utilized by FERC. The worst mishap scenario referenced in the FERC Environmental Impact Statement for the 2006 Dominion Cove Point expansion was a one hour LNG storage tank leak from a 24 inch sump line into a sub-impound area. The Plymouth, WA, incident proves that a one hour LNG leak from an LNG tank is not the worst-case scenario at an LNG facility in the U.S.
Lusby residents are demanding to know:
- Why were Lusby residents never informed about the involuntary fatal risk hazards we were exposed to with the last expansion at Cove Point?
- Would full containment tanks (in lieu of single containment tanks) have mitigated those risks?
- If FERC safety criteria stipulate that no fatal hazards from LNG terminals may extend offsite, why was the last expansion approved by FERC?
WHAT WE DEMAND: FERC must complete a comprehensive quantitative risk assessment of the worst-case, compound explosion hazards of Dominion’s LNG export facility—involving the full and open participation of residents living in its shadow.
Dale Allison, a father from Lusby, MD, who is a retired U.S. Navy civilian aerospace engineer, responded to the news of the Plymouth LNG facility explosion with a fourth submittal to FERC’s docket on the Dominion Cove Point LNG export expansion, reiterating his concerns regarding the explosive hazards which residents will face with the addition of a utility-scale power plant and a large-scale, extremely hazardous liquefaction train at the already crowded footprint of the Dominion property, which is less than a half mile from his home. Allison reacted to the events in Plymouth:
The unfortunate mishap which just occurred at the Plymouth LNG facility once again highlights the absolute requirement that LNG terminals only be sited in remote locations. Cove Point is not that site.
But, if you insist on proceeding, here is what we require. Because the proposed Cove Point liquefaction site is so tightly packed with hazardous process equipment and materials, and because there are so many homes in close proximity, we demand that a full quantitative risk assessment be performed that not only looks at all individual mishaps, but also addresses all possible mishap escalations. Unfortunately, the Plymouth, WA, mishap also shows us that escalations are REAL. A full QRA is the only way that all residents living close to the Cove Point plant can possibly know the full cumulative risk they face—their probability of loss of life—based on their separation distance from the plant.
Dale’s wife Sue Allison, who has become quite adept at translating her husband’s engineering jargon for neighbors, explained it this way:
I think the Plymouth incident highlights the fact that even when safety precautions are taken, accidents can happen and one mishap can lead to another, and another. In Plymouth there was an explosion, which led to shrapnel flying through air, which led to a ruptured LNG storage tank, which led to an LNG leak, which led to a flammable vapor cloud, which led to a two-mile evacuation. In a word, there was a serious ‘escalation’ event in Plymouth.
We continue to hope that FERC will require an Environmental Impact Statement for Cove Point, but whether the safety analysis for the Dominion expansion is done as part of an Environmental Assessment or an EIS, it must be done right and it must consider worst-case scenarios for residents, which would include escalation events. Residents are often told by our elected officials that we really don’t have a right to complain about the expansion because we bought our homes knowing the plant was there and the expansion will be built inside of the existing Dominion footprint. But the fact that Dominion’s Cove Point facility is constrained by that footprint is exactly why we should be concerned—the closer the hazardous equipment and materials are on site, the greater the chances are that a mishap can escalate.
I recently spoke to a mother of young children whose house faces the plant on Cove Point Road. She explained that she is very anxious about the expansion. FERC’s safety analysis must be able to show that mother, based on how close her house is to the proposed expansion, exactly what her family’s safety risk would be should any foreseeable accident happen on site, which could include an explosion, a full tank leak, or both. If an objective QRA, done right, shows that the expansion will subject residents to an unacceptable level of safety risk, Dominion and our Calvert County government should start planning on buying some houses.
The lesson from Plymouth is clear: It can no longer be “business as usual” at FERC where the safety of residents is concerned. The stakes are way too high at Cove Point. The members of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community continue to believe that Cove Point is not an appropriate site for such a hazardous endeavor.
If FERC refuses to do such an analysis, we call on Gov. O’Malley to instruct the Maryland DNR to do another independent risk analysis for the current expansion—one that will become a public document.
We will no longer accept vague assurances about Dominion being a “good neighbor.” It is time to get all the safety facts out on the table.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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