Sailing into Unknown Waters
file photo: Reuters
There is a lot wrong with the present BC government’s obsession with establishing an LNG industry. It is, of course, based on fracking – which has been creating earthquakes in BC, a place which, you might think, has quite enough of an earthquake risk already. We also know that the industry has been understating the release of methane from fracking – and that is far more damaging greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It is also the case that the costs of producing and storing power from wind and solar sources have been dropping rapidly – far faster than any other power producing source anticipated. That means that whole idea that there is a need for some kind of intermediate step between phasing out coal and switching to 100% renewables is redundant.
The siting of LNG plants has also been one of significant controversy, mainly because of sensitive ecological issues which have been ignored by our deliberately crippled environmental review process. There is an LNG plant operating here already – and has been for many years. It is operated by what is now called Fortis BC, which used to be BC Gas. They developed an LNG program to reduce their storage costs. Gas gets produced year round but demand is heavily seasonal. They were also interested in developing new markets in an exercise called load spreading – for example using natural gas either in its compressed or liquid forms for transportation. Which is where I came in. As a policy analyst and transportation economist for the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum resources in the early 1990s I was lobbied by BC Gas to try to get CNG powered buses for BC Transit, and LNG for BC Ferries. The first did happen, the second didn’t. But CNG in transit had a very chequered history.
The LNG plant is located at Tilbury on the Fraser estuary.
One of the reasons the Port is so keen on getting rid of the tunnel is the potential to increase traffic on the river – including much larger LNG tankers for exports. People like Todd Stone have been denying this, but the evidence is overwhelming. But what that also means is that due diligence has not been done in assessing whether such a proposal is desirable at this location. I used to be a Fortis shareholder, as my financial advisor was very keen on their performance and its impact on my portfolio. We had a very interesting discussion about the meaning of the words “risk assessment” – particularly when it came to the expansion of the Tilbury terminal.
I am indebted to Kevin Washbrook, who has been very diligent in researching this issue and bringing it to the attention of Fraser Voices – one of the groups opposing the tunnel replacement. That is another reason for the insertion of the map: the proximity of the terminal and the idea of very large LNG vessels passing under the bridge is a concern, but because of the way the way that all the proposals in the area are viewed as standalone and no cumulative assessment has been done, the concern is not now being addressed.
As Kevin says
Canada is way behind what is legally required in the US and not at all prepared for security or safety risks of building LNG terminals near coastal communities. The Wespac proposal on the Fraser River is particularly egregious. I don’t think there is any way it would be approved in the US.
The comparison to security procedures in the Port of Boston is interesting. There a major bridge over the Tobin River is closed every time an LNG tanker transits underneath.
I don’t have any sense that the Province has considered this in their planning for the new 10 lane Fraser River crossing. Security closures during rush hour when LNG tankers are transiting the river? That won’t go down well.
There is a full report as a pdf file. Part Five is a focused review of the Wespac proposal on the Fraser River and is of particular interest.
To give you a taste of what is covered I am going to cut and paste the Executive Summary here
The pursuit of an LNG export industry in British Columbia is taking place without the government oversight needed to protect the public from safety and security risks.
US regulatory processes provide clear guidance on how to screen LNG proposals for these risks, and how to enforce security protocols around LNG facilities and tankers. Both are needed to protect communities and critical infrastructure from the risks posed by LNG. Similar regulatory processes could easily be established in Canada – if governments chose to make public safety and security a priority.
However, in British Columbia LNG export proponents choose siting locations according to their own criteria. When these proposals enter licensing, permitting and approval processes, those sites are taken as a given:
• NEB export licensing decisions consider only whether proposed exports will impact Canada’s domestic supply of natural gas;
• Our federal government, with responsibility for marine safety, has not established a pre-screening process for marine LNG facilities or a process for assessing the security of our waterways for the movement of LNG tankers;
• The voluntary TERMPOL review process does not consider security concerns;
• Federal Marine Transportation Security Regulations contain no terminal siting criteria or waterway assessment protocols;
• Federal and provincial environmental assessment processes address accidents, but not the likelihood and consequences of deliberate attack; and
• The BC Oil and Gas Commission, with authority over the permitting of coastal LNG facilities, does not explicitly require assessment of the risk of deliberate attack on those facilities, and excludes consideration of LNG tankers and marine approaches to proposed facilities from hazard identification and emergency planning processes.
In short, no government agency, federal or provincial, is tasked with asking fundamentally important questions:
• Is this a safe place to build an LNG terminal?
• Is this an appropriate waterway for the movement of LNG tankers?
As a result, as project reviews gain momentum, there is valid concern that approval processes will attempt to mitigate risks through design requirements for projects that should have been rejected at the outset because they are poorly sited.
The best way to manage security and safety risks around LNG development in BC is to avoid creating those risks in the first place. Canada and British Columbia need to establish transparent and well justified site selection and waterway suitability assessment processes for LNG export proposals to ensure we avoid these risks. A preliminary pre-screening process will be an important tool for eliminating poorly sited project proposals, and will save proponents and government time and money that would otherwise be spent in lengthy approval and permitting processes.
Fortunately, the hard work of developing a pre-screening process has already taken place in the United States. Studies by Sandia National Laboratories have determined justifiable hazard planning distances for assessing risk posed by proposed LNG facilities and LNG tanker movements on nearby populations and critical infrastructure.
The Sandia Laboratory findings have been incorporated into a comprehensive waterway suitability assessment process used by the US Coast Guard to screen LNG marine terminal proposals for safety and security risks. USCG waterway suitability findings from this process are used by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (the US agency in charge of LNG terminal approvals) in their decisions on LNG terminal proposals.
Canada should look closely at existing US regulations – they provide a ready made and proven template for developing our own pre-screening process to protect the public from LNG risks during the process of LNG terminal site selection.
However, even if government did develop a comprehensive pre-screening process, British Columbians would still face risks from LNG export projects. Our federal government has failed to establish a preparedness and response regime for ship-source incidents involving hazardous substances like LNG, despite long identifying such a regime as a priority. The LNG industry has not established a dedicated response organization such as the one in place to address oil spills. Coastal first responders are likely unprepared to deal with the serious hazards posed by a worst case incident involving loss of containment and fire on an LNG tanker. Canada has not established a regulatory regime for bunkering LNG–fuelled vessels, nor, apparently, a certification program for LNG bunker barges.
Further, existing marine security regulations in Canada are underdeveloped and reactive. They do not incorporate, as normal operating procedure, moving exclusion zones around LNG tankers that are common practice in US ports. In addition, neither our Port Authorities nor LNG proponents themselves appear adequately resourced to enforce such exclusion zones if they were applied.
While the probability of a deliberate attack or serious accident on an LNG tanker or facility may be low, the consequences for our communities or critical coastal infrastructure of such an attack could be catastrophic. Government has a responsibility to properly assess and prepare for these risks before BC exports LNG.
Our governments have shown themselves to be keen supporters of development of an LNG export industry. However, before LNG exports proceed, they must show they are just as keen to protect public safety and security from the risks posed by that industry.
BC and Canada should place a moratorium on approved and proposed LNG exports until key regulatory issues are addressed, including 1) developing a proper site screening and waterway suitability assessment process for evaluating LNG export proposals 2) establishing mandatory and enforceable security procedures to address the risk of deliberate attack on LNG facilities and tankers and 3) creating a robust preparedness and response regime for ship source incidents involving LNG, and ensuring that LNG bunkering is properly regulated and LNG bunker barges are properly certified.