LNG not the menace critics want you to believe

Andy Wappler is vice president of customer operations and communications for Puget Sound Energy. Photo by
Andy Wappler is vice president of customer operations and communications for Puget Sound Energy. Photo by

Construction is underway on a $300 million facility at the Port of Tacoma that will provide a cleaner fuel for ships as well as much-needed additional natural gas for customers in the growing Tacoma area on the coldest nights of the year.

Much conflicting information is circulating about the project, so here is a brief review of why LNG is better for our community than sitting on our hands and doing nothing.

It’s safer: LNG is simply the same natural gas we use in our homes and businesses, only refrigerated to minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit, where it turns into a liquid.

Some on social media and elsewhere claim we risk explosions and dangerous chain reactions. That’s simply false. LNG is not explosive or even flammable in its liquid state. When warmed, it’s the same fuel we all use in our stoves and furnaces, and requires the same safety precautions.

The storage tank holding the LNG is not pressurized. It is designed to withstand a once-in-every-2,450-year earthquake (compared to our highway bridges, which are designed to a 1,000-year-earthquake standard).

It’s cleaner: By switching from diesel to LNG, maritime vessels at the Port will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions into Tacoma’s air by more than 30 percent and dangerous particulate (smoke) emissions by more than 90 percent.

Switching to LNG will also greatly minimize the potential for harm to the waters of Commencement Bay and Puget Sound. Natural gas (methane) is non-toxic. In the unlikely event of a spill, it evaporates completely – unlike oil.

Social media posts shout about the 39.6 tons of air pollutants the plant will emit every year. What they don’t talk about are the 160,000 tons of toxic air pollutants the LNG plant will eliminate compared to the fuels used today.

It has a positive economic impact: The Tacoma LNG facility will provide significant economic benefits to Tacoma’s economy, residents and businesses. The LNG facility will create about 250 construction jobs (many already working at the site) and 18 permanent jobs.

The project also helps local employers like TOTE remain competitive and maintain hundreds of family-wage jobs at the Port and elsewhere in the community. This is particularly important as other West Coast ports, such as Vancouver and Los Angeles, are already transitioning to LNG.

It saves customers money: Pierce County and the region are growing, and the LNG facility will provide reliable, cost-effective natural gas to our customers on the coldest days of the year.

The LNG facility will save PSE natural gas customers between $50 million and $100 million over 10 years compared to the cost of increasing pipeline capacity into the region. Utility customers will pay for only the benefit they receive from the LNG facility. Shippers will pay their fair share for the benefits they get from making the switch to a much cleaner fuel.

It has thorough oversight: A project like this is complex, and there are nearly 20 local, state and federal agencies that have or will issue permits as the project progresses.

Demolition of the old buildings on the site is complete, as are ground improvements that will stabilize the land to support the facility and withstand a massive earthquake.

The project is being permitted in phases, and permitting is in order before a phase of constructions begins.

It’s local: The LNG produced in Tacoma will not be exported. The facility will serve local PSE customers only, including homes, businesses and as a transportation fuel for ships running out of the Port.

It’s a step forward: Some people believe there should be no additional investment in any fossil fuel infrastructure. This is really a different debate that should be evaluated on its own merits, in the context of what’s realistically possible today.

Converting local maritime users to LNG is a positive step we can take now, one that reduces greenhouse gasses and particulates while at the same time saving families and employers money.

Andy Wappler is vice president of customer operations and communications for Puget Sound Energy.