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FERC Issues LNG Guide to Allay Concerns, Educate Public

May 9, 2005
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FERC has released a 10-page guide that responds to and seeks to allay the public's concerns about the safety of liquefied natural gas (LNG), as well as educate the public about how to get involved at the agency to either support or block LNG projects.

"There's a lot of activity in LNG...This [guide] is just good government," a spokesman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said of the "Guide to LNG: What All Citizens Should Know."

The Commission guide "is intended to provide useful information to citizens regarding the nature of LNG, the review process used by FERC staff in analyzing proposed LNG facilities, and how to participate in the review process."

The guide contends that "LNG is not at all explosive or flammable in its liquid state." Methane is only flammable at air concentration mixtures of 5%-to-15%, and when the gas is located in enclosed or otherwise confined spaces, according to FERC.

It noted that LNG has been transported across the oceans for more than 45 years without major accidents or safety problems, and no serious accidents involving an LNG terminal facility in the United States has happened in over 25 years. A major accident occurred in October 1944 at an LNG storage facility in Cleveland, OH, where a tank failed and spilled LNG into the street and storm sewer system, causing a fire and explosion that killed 128 people.

"That tank was built during World War II, when metals were strictly rationed, using a steel alloy that had low nickel content. The low nickel content made the tank brittle when exposed to the extreme cold of LNG. Modern LNG tanks are constructed with materials proven capable of safely containing LNG at cryogenic (supercold) temperatures," FERC said.

In 1979, an operational accident occurred at the Cove Point LNG import terminal in Lusby, MD, when a pump seal failed, according to the agency. "Gas vapors entered an electrical conduit and settled in a confined space. When a worker switched off a circuit breaker the gas ignited, causing a fatality and heavy damage to the building. Lessons learned from this accident resulted in changes to the national fire codes to ensure that a similar situation could not [recur]."

FERC also noted that of the 33,000 voyages completed since the beginning of LNG maritime transportation in 1959, there have been only eight accidents involving LNG tankers, none of which resulted in spills from cargo tank ruptures.

"I think they [FERC] make some valid points" in the guide, said one analyst. But he added that he didn't believe there was "enough firm research" available yet to verify some of the conclusions reached by the Commission.

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