The Boston Herald ran a story Thursday quoting U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) about plans by a "major fuel company" to stage a controlled test in which a missile would be fired at a liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker out at sea to see if it explodes. Capuano, whose constituents live in the Boston area, which is home to Suez's Everett LNG terminal, told the Herald such a test would help answer questions about what might happen in the event of a terrorist attack on an LNG ship in Boston Harbor.
"I don't like frightening people. I want to see evidence," Capuano told the Herald. "I'd like to know the truth, and right now there are no definitive studies." He said he met with officials from the unnamed company that apparently is considering taking an old, gas-filled tanker and "hitting it with a missile to see what happens."
"It's just never happened so all the studies are based on scientific guestimates. It would provide the answers," Capuano said in the Herald interview. "If they do it, I want to go."
Suez LNG North America, operator of the Distrigas terminal in Everett, MA, near Boston, and Coast Guard officials said they have not heard of any plans to conduct such a test. And Capuano spokeswoman Alison M. Mills said the discussion that occurred between the congressman and the unnamed company were just "theoretical."
"It was an idea that was mentioned in passing," said Mills. "No formal action has been taken." She said the congressman met with the LNG company officials several weeks ago and discussed the idea. No follow-up meeting has been planned.
"The general concept of obtaining definitive information regarding safety is important to him," said Mills. "However, there are numerous questions that would need to be answered. One of the critical questions that would need to be answered," she noted, would be how to pay for such a test. A new full-sized LNG tanker costs about $250 million, excluding the cost of the cargo (3 Bcf) -- another $207 million at today's natural gas prices.
Bill Cooper, executive director for the Center for LNG in Washington, DC, said, "There's no one in the industry contemplating such a [test]... People have theorized on that over time, but there has been no serious effort to do such a thing.
"At one point the Japanese tried to sink one, and it took them forever," said Cooper. "They couldn't even penetrate the hull on it. And I think there was a compressed natural gas tanker that experienced an attack and had a small fire but no injuries. But no LNG tanker has ever experienced a loss of cargo in the 40-plus years that we've been in business."
In studying such an event, Cooper said the LNG industry doesn't get to the "ultimate consequence" without a thorough risk assessment, which always concludes that such an attack would be "highly unlikely."
"The likelihood of such an attack happening is very remote," Cooper said. "You have to overcome the hurdles that someone is actually going to be able to procure the weapons that can penetrate an inch-and-a-half steel plated outer hull, a six-to10-foot space between the outer hull and inner hull, then the inner hull, then the insulation barrier, and then the cryogenic material, which we consider to be highly unlikely. If that were to occur, obviously you would have a fire, but one that would not explode, of course, because [LNG] is not explosive in a noncontained environment. The fire would burn but that would only be if you could even get that far, and we would argue that you can't.
"If there was an ignition, it would just burn back to the source until that source was burned up," said Cooper. "But if it was not contained, it would not explode. But you don't even get there in a practical world."
The Sandia National Laboratories report, however, concluded that in a worst case scenario a terrorist assault on an LNG tanker could burn people as far as a mile away from the site (see http://www.fossil.energy.gov/programs/oilgas/storage/lng/sandia_lng_1204.pdf).
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