Matt Houston  /  AP
Liquified natural gas is delivered via huge tankers like this one at Cove Point, Md.
updated 5/4/2005 2:31:57 PM ET 2005-05-04T18:31:57

Residents here are asking themselves whether they want a liquefied natural gas terminal built across the bay from their peaceful river town. They aren’t alone in wrestling with that question.

Several communities across the country have been proposed as sites for the terminals and their residents — like the people in Astoria — are worried about safety, the economy and the environment.

“The possibility of any disaster is very low,” said Rose Priven, one of three project opponents running for the Port of Astoria Commission next month. “But safety studies show that if the worst happened, it would be horrendous.”

A proposal for a terminal in Providence, R.I., has officials there complaining it could wreck redevelopment plans for the city’s waterfront. Delaware officials are trying to block a liquefied natural gas terminal planned for southern New Jersey.

Opposition already has scuttled projects in Maine, California and Alabama.

From 4 to 50 terminals?
LNG is natural gas cooled until it turns to liquid so it can be shipped across the ocean in special tankers. As a liquid, LNG cannot explode and is not flammable. If released, it becomes a colorless, odorless vapor that can catch fire. It will explode only if in a confined area.

Right now, there are four import terminals — in Maryland, Georgia, Louisiana and Massachusetts.

About 50 more are in various stages of proposal or planning in the United States, Canada and Mexico — including five in Oregon.

Industry advocates say the safety risks are exaggerated, citing a 40-year history of more than 35,000 shipments of LNG worldwide without a significant release of the fuel or a fire.

The last liquefied natural gas explosion in the United States was in Cleveland when a poorly designed tank blew up in 1944, killing 128 people and leveling a square mile. A tank blast in Algeria last year killed 30 workers and injured dozens.

Industry advocates have argued that the Algerian accident, involving a liquid gas leak and explosion set off by a spark from a boiler, could not happen at U.S. terminals because of different equipment and design.

Jobs promised
In Oregon, the Port of Astoria has signed a five-year lease with California-based Calpine Corp., with options for two 30-year extensions if the project materializes. Designers say it could provide up to 500 construction jobs and 75 positions at the completed facility.

The project, which could be operational by 2011, has to be approved by various federal, state and local agencies. No formal application has been filed, said Tamara Young-Allen, spokeswoman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C.

Calpine spokesman Peter Hansen said the tanks would have inch-thick stainless steel walls inside a 3-foot-thick sheath of reinforced concrete.

Ships would travel from the Pacific Ocean to the mouth of the Columbia River several times a week. Plans call for a storage and processing terminal to be built in Warrenton, across the bay from Astoria.

“The Warrenton location is away from concentrations of people and you don’t have to pass under the bridge,” he said. “We wanted to keep it away from Astoria and we believe the site is well-suited for us.”

Opponents worry the planned gas project could threaten the Young’s Bay estuary where salmon and other species develop. They also fear the ships carrying natural gas over the bar also could disrupt cruise ships and fishing, which bring money to the region.

President Bush has called for aggressive expansion of imports of liquefied natural gas. He said Congress should make clear the federal government has final say over locating LNG import terminals, even when states or communities object to projects.

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