A House committee of the Rhode Island Legislature voted out a bill last Wednesday creating a buffer zone that "essentially would make it impossible" for tankers laden with liquefied natural gas (LNG) to navigate the Narragansett Bay and Sakonnet River on their way to the proposed Weaver's Cove LNG import terminal in Fall River, MA, a spokeswoman for the bill's sponsor said.
The bill (H 6731), proposed by state Rep. Raymond Gallison (D-RI), would require LNG tankers traveling through Rhode Island waters to maintain an "exclusion zone" to distance themselves from people, piers, wharves, docks, bulkheads, waterfront facilities, flammable materials, hunting groups or areas from which an incendiary device could be launched, or where welding, torch-cutting or hot work is being performed.
It's estimated that 63,500 people from Rhode Island and Massachusetts live along a route that would be used by tankers on their way to the proposed Weaver's Cove terminal, which is sponsored by Hess LNG and Poten & Partners.
The "exclusion zone" would extend two miles ahead of an LNG tanker, one mile behind it, 500 yards on each side and 30 feet above the ship, according to the House measure. Gallison said no LNG tanker -- particularly one headed to the proposed Weaver's Cove terminal -- could maintain the exclusion zone in parts of the route through the Narragansett Bay and Sakonnet River.
The "exclusion zone" also would cut off waterway access for tankers seeking to navigate the Narragansett Bay and Providence River as part of KeySpan LNG's proposal to convert a peaking facility in Providence, RI, to a full-fledged import terminal, said Gallison spokeswoman Meredyth R. Waterman. The project was rejected by FERC last July, but the company has not given up on it yet.
The bill was approved by the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee and is headed to the full House of Representatives, where a vote is likely to occur within two to three weeks, Waterman said. If it passes in the House, the bill would then go to the Senate, she noted.
Gallison said he was confident that the "exclusion zone" would pass constitutional muster because of a federal law that allows states to establish their own standards for public safety in navigable waters. "Federal law very clearly gives Rhode Island the right to say what we think isn't safe in our waters. It's not safe for LNG tankers filled with highly combustible gas to be in places where they could be exposed, whether by accident or by malicious intention, to any kind of fire," he noted.
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