In every battle a few heroes step forward. Heroes come from all ranks, from general to foot soldier. What they have in common is that they put themselves at risk to do the right thing, regardless of personal cost. Sometimes the heroes lead the charge, and other times they call retreat.
We are still looking for the heroes of the fight against Puget Sound Energy’s effort to build a liquefied natural gas and storage facility at the Port of Tacoma. There is enough evidence, both scientific and financial, to call an end to the LNG project. We just need someone brave enough to step forward and speak the truth.
PSE is making a last-ditch public-relations effort to save the project, with advertisements that border on absurd. Does anyone actually believe a goldfish can swim in LNG, which is 260 degrees below zero so that it won’t evaporate into an explosive gas?
Perhaps most upsetting is that PSE is spending the ratepayers’ money in this failed attempt to sway public opinion. Even worse, PSE is appealing to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission to get Washington gas customers to foot the bill and assume the risk if the project fails.
The public deserves to know the risks. PSE keeps claiming there is no danger outside the 550-foot property line if the 8-million gallon storage tank of LNG were to leak or explode. Yet PSE refuses to share any of its modeling data with the public about what would happen in such a catastrophe. It has even gone to court to prevent the release of this information.
However, there is plenty of information PSE cannot keep from the public. The Tacoma Fire Department uses the Emergency Response Guide to determine how to handle a potential fire or explosion. It recommends that for an accident involving LNG, “evacuate for 1,600 meters (1 mile) in all directions.”
The Emergency Response Guide considers a 12,000-gallon tanker truck a large potential hazard. The storage tank at the LNG plant is over 650 times larger. When I ran the modeling program used by the Tacoma Fire Department, there was significantly more than a 3-mile radius around the LNG facility that would be in danger of a vapor cloud fire.
The most damaging information comes from The Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators. Interestingly, PSE is one of the few LNG companies in the world that is not a member, probably because they have never produced LNG. The tanker and terminal operators group recommends LNG liquefaction facilities be at least three miles from residential areas.
Within three miles of the proposed LNG facility at the port, there are hospitals, schools, day care facilities, museums, City Hall, businesses and tens of thousands of residents — not to mention huge stockpiles of other fossil fuels at the port that could ignite in an explosion.
Who is going to be the hero of the LNG battle? Will someone from the port or the Tacoma City Council step forward and do the right thing? Will the local newspaper take the challenge? Will a whistleblower from within PSE come forward?
My bet is on Tacoma Fire Chief Jim Duggan. The Fire Department’s mission is to “protect people, property, and the environment.” My hope is that the chief will share the information with the public from his Emergency Response Guide and his computer models.
Not only would he be protecting the public, he would be protecting his own fire fighters from the Tideflats fire station that the city is planning to reopen in the center of the blast zone. By coming forward with information at his disposal, he can be the real hero in this story.
Steven Storms of Browns Point is a retired chemical engineer. He has more than 40 years’ experience in the energy and environmental field and is a former chairman of the Puget Sound American Institute of Chemical Engineers.