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Direct Yemen-to-U.S. LNG Shipment Prompts Security Review

A proposed first-ever direct shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Yemen, where Al-Qaeda threats have intensified, to Boston Harbor tentatively in February has prompted the U.S. Coast Guard there to review its tanker security.

The Coast Guard began its security review before a passenger with ties to Al-Qaeda in Yemen tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane headed for Detroit on Christmas Day, said Coast Guard spokesman Jeff Hall.

The Yemen-to-Boston proposal of GDF Suez Energy North America, which owns the Distrigas of Massachusetts terminal in Everett, MA, is being considered by the Captain of Port John Healey in Boston, he noted. LNG has never been transported directly from Yemen to the United States, but rather has always gone through a third party, Hall said.

He said he did not know how much LNG would be delivered to the Everett terminal, or if the delivery would occur in February. "We want to be fair to all parties. But we're not using the February deadline as a set-in-stone deadline."

The number of Yemen-sourced LNG shipments to the Distrigas terminal will depend on demand, weather and other factors, said GDF Suez spokesman Julie Vitek. She noted that the Yemen LNG, which will be a "new supply source" for Distrigas, would supplement shipments from Trinidad and Tobago and Egypt.

Other key customers for Yemen LNG are the French energy giant Total and the Korea Gas Corp. (KOGAS) of South Korea, Vitek said. The LNG plant in Yemen started production in October.

Citing concerns about the planned LNG shipment from terrorist-torn Yemen to Boston Harbor in February, a Boston Globe editorial last Tuesday chided natural gas industry and public officials for not coming up with a "safer alternative" to the Distrigas import terminal in Everett.

"Shipping [LNG] in massive tankers to Everett through narrow Boston Harbor has always been dangerous, no matter where the gas was loaded. And while a recent Al-Qaeda plot hatched in Yemen has heightened local fears about a planned delivery next month of [LNG] loaded in that troubled country, it doesn't justify an outright prohibition on the shipment.

"Nonetheless the Yemen connection underscores the need for stringent security for all such shipments -- and offers a reminder that gas industry and public officials should have long ago begun planning a safer alternative to the Distrigas facility in Everett," the editorial said.

Terminal owner GDF Suez fired back at the editorial. "We are pleased that the editorial discussed the importance of the Everett terminal and the critical role that the terminal plays in New England gas supply," said Vitek. "However, we respectfully differ [on] the location of the Everett terminal as we feel its location is strategic and close to customers."

The Boston Globe said even if the resurgence of terrorism on domestic soil were taken out of the equation, the terminal's location is still not ideal. "The facility was built 40 years ago, long before a terrorist associated with Al-Qaeda tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet bound for Detroit. Yet bringing LNG tankers through Boston Harbor was always a poor idea...What's needed is a new Distrigas facility in a more sparsely populated part of New England," the newspaper noted. The Distrigas LNG terminal is the oldest LNG terminal in the United States.

"As much as 40% of New England's gas comes to the region aboard ships, supplementing the pipelines that connect the region to sources in the South or in Canada. On an annual basis, the region gets 20% of its gas from LNG. Gas utilities through the region depend on tanker-truck deliveries of [LNG] from Everett to keep their customers supplied.

"Al-Qaeda is all too aware of the tanker shipments. In his 2004 book, former U.S. counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke wrote that before 9/11 Al-Qaeda had smuggled agents into this country on board the tankers...After the 9/11 attacks, U.S. officials temporarily closed Boston Harbor to the shipments until they could put adequate security measures in place. Those attacks should also have prompted government and industry officials to begin seeking an alternative to Everett. After more than eight years, such as effort is long overdue," the Globe editorial said (see NGI, March 29, 2004, Oct. 22, 2001).

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