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Former Antiterrorism Adviser Says Urban LNG Terminals Risk Catastrophe

Former White House antiterrorism adviser Richard Clarke issued a 159-page report last week that finds that not only are liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers and urban import terminals vulnerable to "catastrophic" terrorist attacks, they also are "extremely attractive" terrorist targets and there is little that can be done to protect against such attacks.

Clarke, former antiterrorism adviser for the Clinton and Bush administrations, released his report titled "LNG Facilities in Urban Areas" at a forum at Brown University. Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch hired Clarke's Virginia-based consulting firm, Good Harbor Consulting, in January to conduct the study of LNG import terminal proposals in Providence, RI, by KeySpan and in Fall River, MA, by Hess LNG. The report was filed with the U.S. Coast Guard last Monday and is expected to be filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Instead of using risk management calculations based on statistics, the report looks at intent, capability, vulnerability, consequence and recovery. "Traditional risk management methodologies would have determined that the probability of terrorists employing hijacked commercial passenger aircraft to destroy the World Trade Center was zero," the report notes.

The analysis, which depicts potentially alarming human and economic consequences from an attack, concludes that urban LNG offloading terminals and supertankers "have security vulnerabilities that are unlikely to be successfully remediated," Lynch said in a statement following the report's release.

"We are unaware of any analysis performed by counterterrorism experts in the U.S. government, such as the U.S. Special Operation Command, that would demonstrate the ability of the Coast Guard and the Rhode Island police to prevent attacks by determined and skilled terrorists" on either the LNG offloading facilities or the LNG tanker during its 29-mile inland waterway transit to the terminal, Clarke said in a summary of his report.

"We judge that such attacks run a high risk of generating catastrophic damage, with which the region could not adequately cope during the consequence management or recovery phases."

The new report describes potential scenarios in which terrorists could mount armor piercing guns on boats or land vehicles to attack terminals or tankers. It also examines potential terrorist attacks from the air with hijacked aircraft.

It repeats some of the Department of Energy's Sandia Lab findings on LNG, including analysis of the massive fire that could follow an attack (see Daily GPI, Dec. 22, 2004). However, unlike the Sandia analysis, Clarke's report indicates that security measures would be inadequate to significantly reduce the risk of attack.

In the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, Clarke said he instructed the Coast Guard to close Boston Harbor. He feared that an LNG tanker coming into Boston might be another terrorist target. "Had one of the giant tankers blown up in the harbor, it would have wiped out downtown Boston," Clarke wrote in his book "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror."

Clarke's new report paints a grim picture of what could happen in Providence if an LNG tanker were successfully targeted. It estimates that 3,000 people could die almost instantly and another 10,000 more could suffer serious burns within the first few minutes of a LNG pool fire. Many more casualties could occur as the evaporation of LNG increased. Clarke estimated a total casualty figure of 10,000-30,000 in the Providence area.

"This is the kind of information that the big-money LNG industry hasn't wanted the public to have since they started putting all of these terminal proposals on the drawing board," Lynch said. "I hope that Richard Clarke's threat analysis helps inform the public, both here in southeastern New England and nationally, about the stupidity and short-sightedness of siting LNG facilities in densely populated urban areas."

In a public response, KeySpan said that it has adopted greater security measures for tankers and its proposed terminal, that will substantially reduce the risk of attack but will raise the cost of operations. "Safety and security are the highest priority for KeySpan for all of our energy facilities," said David J. Manning, executive vice president for KeySpan. "Two plans are in process -- one for security, another for safety -- all at the direction of federal and state entities and in which KeySpan has been a participant."

Manning said KeySpan has proposed to augment existing safety measures, including use of a high "expansion foam system and a vapor fence." It plans to cover all the incremental costs to implement the security plan. The costs could reach $50,000 per ship, in addition to any increases in state and local taxes paid by KeySpan, Manning said.

FERC is expected to issue its final environmental impact statement soon on the KeySpan terminal. FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said Wednesday, the Commission had not yet received a copy of the Good Harbor Consulting report and could not comment on it, other than to say its findings would be considered as part of the KeySpan case once the report is on file. Lynch is expected to submit the report to FERC this week.

Although it may cost much more to locate an LNG import terminal in a remote location, Clarke said he believes the extra cost would be a small price to pay given the potential consequences of a terrorist attack on an urban LNG terminal.

By choosing to locate terminals in urban areas, "governments would be deciding that avoiding the possible additional financial cost to the LNG operator and/or consumers of a more secure location is more important public policy than avoiding the additional risk of a catastrophic attack involving mass trauma and burn injuries..."

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