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Sailboat Incident Prompts Tighter Security at Elba Island LNG Terminal

Security concerns at El Paso Corp.'s Elba Island liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal on the coast of Georgia prompted the U.S. Coast Guard to establish a permanent security zone around the facility's mooring slip. The Coast Guard's decision follows an incident last June in which a sailboat entered the slip and anchored for six hours one day before the scheduled arrival of an LNG carrier.

The incident prompted the LNG facility to conduct a visual inspection of the above-water mooring features and a complete underwater survey, which delayed cargo deliveries from an LNG vessel. The inspection and survey were necessary to ensure that no objects that could potentially harm the vessel or facility were left in the slip. Although the incident did not result in any harm to the facility or to the LNG vessel, the Coast Guard quickly recognized that a potential security vulnerability exists.

The incident followed a recommissioning and expansion of the terminal, which is located on the Savannah River. In May 2002, El Paso subsidiary Southern LNG Inc. submitted a letter of intent to expand the facility, nearly doubling its storage capacity and substantially increasing the number of LNG tanker arrivals. The expansion, which was completed in early 2006, resulted in the creation of two new berths within a redesigned slip. However, the redesign inadvertently created a safe refuge off the river with unrestricted access to the LNG berths.

"As a result, the LNG facility and arriving LNG vessels are put at risk of sabotage or other adverse action that could result in significant damage to property and loss of life," the Coast Guard said in a Federal Register notice this week announcing an interim rule that establishes the new security measures.

"As the demand for natural gas continues to grow, Southern LNG plans to expand its current operation, potentially increasing both the size and frequency of LNG vessel arrivals and further concerns over a potential accidental spill or intentional release of LNG," the agency said. "The risks and hazards from an LNG spill will vary depending on the size of the spill, environmental conditions and the site at which the spill occurs. Hazards can include cryogenic burns to the ship's crew and people nearby or potential damage to the LNG ship from contact with the cryogenic LNG. Vaporization of the liquid LNG can occur once a spill occurs and subsequent ignition of the vapor cloud could cause fires and overpressures that could injure people or cause damage to the tanker's structure, other LNG tanks, or nearby structures.

"Therefore, the incident of June 6, 2006..., the hazards associated with the transportation of LNG, and the expansion of Elba Island LNG facility necessitate making this interim rule effective upon publication with a 60-day request for comment period."

The security zone includes all the waters from surface to bottom of the northeastern most mooring dolphin to the southeastern most mooring dolphin and continues west along the north and south shoreline of the mooring slip to the shoreline of the right descending bank of the Savannah River.

The interim rule was effective Jan. 9. Comments and related material must reach the Coast Guard on or before March 12. For further information contact Lieutenant Robert Webb at (912) 652-4353.

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