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Lloyds List: Why record needs putting straight on this least dangerous of all liquid fuels

Quarterpoints Bill Gray, Lloyds List
Published: Feb 14, 2007

THE US naval architect James J Henry designed and commissioned the first liquefied natural gas tanker, Methane Pioneer, a converted small Second World War cargoship, in 1959 and traded it successfully from the US to the Thames Estuary for about three years.

Shell then created by the mid-1960s the world’s first successful LNG trade from the Mediterranean to Canvey Island in Methane Princessand Methane Progress. Both vessels provided safe and reliable service for many years.

Shortly after their christening, however, a terrible book, whose name I do not recall, was published in the US predicting the almost certain destruction of most of New York harbour from a containership hitting an LNG tanker, causing an explosion equi-valent to perhaps a dozen Hiroshima atom bombs.

From that day forward LNG has been at the top of the US public’s ‘unsafe under any circumstance’ list.

And it still applies today as this mighty, but largely uniformed, nation struggles to import the LNG it so badly needs. Because of a proposal by Shell and its partner to bring LNG into Long Island Sound, a US yachting mecca, I decided to add my view based on personal LNG experience from my Exxon days.

I repeat here what I wrote in January to the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency responsible for approving such projects.

I am a retired senior who has lived most of my life on the Connecticut shore, spent 51 years working in the marine industry and been a yachtsman since age three.

I voyaged to my first seven foreign countries aboard sailing vessels from Connecticut ports. I believe my life as a recreational boater, naval officer and designer, operator and executive of large tankers, provides me with extremely broad experience from which to provide relevant facts bearing on the bitter controversy and regrettable fearmongering offered by most of the public, media and political statements about the Broadwater plan for bringing LNG to both sides of Long Island Sound. Let me state these facts.

First, LNG is unquestionably the least harmful or dangerous of all liquid hydrocarbons the world has yet discovered. It is non-polluting and is very difficult even to ignite if accidentally released because it very quickly evaporates and cannot even be detected shortly after.

This was proved conclusively in full scale trials in the 1960s by Shell, a Broadwater participant, and a little later by Esso, now Exxon, where I was directly involved with four LNG vessels, some of which are still serving reliably.

Second, the safety and reliability of marine transport of LNG is virtually unparalleled in marine, aviation, pipeline or other commercial endeavours because of the attention given to design, operation and training at all stages of handling what, signi- ficantly, is a totally clean and non-corrosive substance.

As the US Coast Guard has reported, in 45 years with about 33,000 LNG voyages worldwide there have been only eight incidents with no spills or fires,

Third, even the largest LNG ships will have no difficulty entering or leaving Long Island Sound, which easily provides more than enough manoeuvring room the for them. Also it is likely they will be escorted by tethered tugs, a feature increasingly used for large ships.

Significantly, commercial marine activity in Long Island Sound is far less intensive or demanding of space than in many other popular and narrower recreational areas such as Chesapeake Bay which serves LNG, Navy and merchant shipping, San Francisco which has extensive tanker, and containership traffic and wind surfers and Britain’s Long Island Sound, the Solent.

Each of these yachtsmen’s and kayakers’ areas, and many like them, have safely and simultaneously shared the same waters for years.

The total area for the Broadwater terminal is only about 1.5 sq miles or about 0.1 % of the Sound’s 1,320 sq m area.

Fourth, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, speaking for his security firm, has said the proposed terminal would be ‘as safe a facility in design as you could possibly have’ and ‘in case the worst thing happens, there could be no impact on the Long Island shore or Connecticut shore’.

Fifth, many statements frequently reported in the media by environmental groups, local politicians and particularly Connecticut attorney General Blumenthal, virtually all show either a total lack of knowledge about the facts of LNG and Broadwater’s proposal or, more likely, a deliberate and sustained attempt to mislead and frighten the public into defeating this proposal.

If these many critics of Broadwater have made any attempt to study the voluminous report by FERC which includes considered views from Coast Guard, EPA, NOAA and US Army Engineers they could not possibly support the ‘scare’ statements they have made.

Just for starters, the facility will be so far from either shore that on most days one will not even see it.

And statements suggesting that Coast Guard’s security zones around the ships will deprive recreational boaters of anything more than a small moving security area around each ship, as is done in most US ports, have been deliberately and falsely described as encroaching on the freedom of all other vessels from a significant portion of the Sound’s waters.

Lastly, no greater environmental risks are posed by the terminal or ships it will receive when compared with other craft and activities already existing in Long Island Sound and along its shores.

Based on these facts I totally support the Broadwater proposal, and for that matter many of the other LNG facilities the US requires if the nation is to have greater availability of this most proven and reliable energy source.

I hope that by submitting these views as a life fellow and land medallist of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers they may help to counter the radical scare statements of politicians, media, environmentalists and recreational boaters that are so frequently made in the US and, increasingly, other parts of the world.

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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