The U.S. Coast Guard has issued a final rule establishing a permanent security zone around the mooring area for liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers at the Elba Island, GA LNG terminal owned by Southern Natural Gas to encompass the opening of two new berths and the expected increase in LNG tanker traffic.

In a Federal Register notice Tuesday, the Coast Guard said the new rule would be effective June 14, 2007. The agency noted the expansion of the LNG facility on the Savannah River, which was completed in 2006, as well as Southern's plans for further expansions as the demand for natural gas continues to grow. Additional LNG plant expansions would potentially increase both the size and frequency of LNG vessel arrivals, the Coast Guard said.

The new configuration of the mooring area with the addition of the two new berths raises "further concerns over a potential accidental spill or intentional release of LNG...The design of the new slip inadvertently creates a safe refuge off the Savannah River with unrestricted access to 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 agency said.

It noted an incident last June when a sailboat entered the LNG slip and anchored for six hours, one day before the scheduled arrival of an LNG carrier. This incident raised security concerns and prompted the LNG facility to inspect the above-water mooring system and conduct a complete underwater survey to ensure no objects that could potentially harm the vessel or facility were left in the slip. While the incident did not result in any harm to the facility or vessel, the docking of the LNG ship was delayed and it pointed up the vulnerability of the area.

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