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Large LNG Explosion Displaces Hundreds in Washington

Energy

Nearly 1,000 area residents and agricultural workers were displaced Monday following a liquefied natural gas (LNG) explosion at a plant near the Washington-Oregon border.

According to the Tri-City Herald, hazardous materials experts believe the Monday morning explosion at Northwest Pipeline caused the slow leak of cold LNG from a 14.6-million-gallon storage tank that was struck by shrapnel. While a statement from Williams Partners, owner of the Plymouth, WA plant, states that the majority of the evacuees were allow to return to their homes by 8 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, the Herald's report indicates that officials have yet to end the evacuation.

Highway and rail line traffic also was shut down near the Columbia River.

“This is considered a large leak,” said Joe Lusignan, a Benton County Sheriff's Office spokesman.

Nearly 1,000 area residents and employees were evacuated Monday after a natural gas explosion took place at a Plymouth, WA plant. Video screenshot: Tri-City Herald.

 

Capt. Jeff Ripley of the area's fire district said the natural gas vapors could have exploded if they were mixed with the right amount of oxygen, atmosphere and an ignition source. That sort of explosion would pack the power kill anybody within a radius of up to three-quarters of a mile. The gas is stored at negative 260 degrees.

 

Hazardous material experts have been assessing information gathered by a Washington State Patrol robot and helicopter that were sent into the plant Monday afternoon. The cause has yet to be determined.

"We believe that only natural gas was released and it evaporated into the atmosphere," Williams Partners said earlier in the day. "There is no hazardous vapor drifting toward residents in the area. The tanks involved were about one-third full of liquefied natural gas.

"Once it is safe to return to the plant, we will begin a thorough investigation into the cause of the incident."

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission will also investigate the incident. The Commission last evaluated the facility in November—a "clean inspection," according to David Lykken, the commission’s director of pipeline safety, who said there were no violations.

According to The Associated Press, the facility provides supplemental gas when demand rises for a 4,000-mile pipeline that extends from the Canadian border to southern Utah.

Just last week, an LNG terminal at Coos Bay, OR received federal approval. The terminal would be supplied by the proposed 235-mile-long Pacific Connector pipeline, crossing public and private land in southern Oregon to connect to existing pipelines from British Columbia to California.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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