Senator Asks FERC How It Measures Hazards of LNG Export

Photo: Michael Hinrichs (left), a spokesman for Jordan Cove, Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, and Mark Wall (right), forestry manager for Roseburg Forest Products, stand on the proposed site for the Jordan Cove Energy Project. /Photo by Ted Sickinger

By Ted Sickinger, The Oregonian

Sen. Ron Wyden has asked federal energy regulators to provide him with information on the methods and models used to evaluate public safety hazards from potential chemical leaks at the proposed Jordan Cove Energy Project in Coos Bay.

The Oregon Democrat noted in letters to the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the acting administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that serious questions had been raised in public comments about the adequacy of hazard modeling for the liquefied natural gas export facility.

Wyden’s letter follows up on public comments filed last month by Jerry Havens, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Arkansas, and James Venart, an emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at the University of New Brunswick. Both have decades of experience as academicians in the field.

The two contend that Jordan Cove’s hazard modeling provides inadequate safety exclusion zones due to the ballooning size of LNG facilities in general, and the recent spate of applications to export gas. Export facilities use a host of other chemicals, including propane and ethylene, to purify and refrigerate natural gas before shipping. Those chemicals are more explosive than methane.

They also contend that Jordan Cove’s design could exacerbate the problem. It includes impermeable barriers as high as 40 feet that could concentrate vapor clouds in the event of a leak, enveloping the facility’s liquefaction equipment, its massive storage tanks and much of its shipping berth, potentially including a tanker full of LNG docked there. In the event of ignition, the knock-on effects could be disastrous, they said, potentially leading to the total loss of the facility.

Finally, Havens and Venart noted that regulators are now using proprietary modeling software to evaluate the hazards and that data inputs to the models are often submitted under the designation of Critical Energy Infrastructure Information, so no outside expert can get hold of the information to review and verify it.

Wyden asked FERC and the PHMSA for the current protocols they use to evaluate the environmental impacts and public safety related to vapor clouds. That includes descriptions of the models and the extent to which they and the underlying data are made publicly available. To the extent they aren’t, he asked for the rationale underpinning that policy.

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