In response to the Maxine Connor letter on Sept. 30:
As one who has studied the current Florida East Coast Railroad’s high-risk experiment with unprecedented LNG (liquid natural gas) rail intermodal container transportation, at-risk communities need to know the scope of the dangers. LNG must be kept under slight pressure but robustly refrigerated below -260 degrees F, so containers must be double-hulled with insulation in between the shells.
The LNG industry wants to move it freely on U.S. highways and rail lines, even though until now, LNG rail transportation by tank cars has been forbidden by federal agencies that highlight its unique challenges for rail workers and trackside communities. The ongoing Florida East Coast Railway experiment permitted and closely overseen by the the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration is designed to support a new Trump administration move to allow LNG by rail over all U.S. rail lines.
If LNG containers are punctured or otherwise released — by accident or terrorism — the super-cold LNG liquid embrittles the surfaces it touches and will pick up heat from an over-water or over-land release, and boil off furiously creating a cold, dense ground-
hugging flammable vapor cloud which is huge — 620 times larger in volume than the container releasing it. Even federal agencies admit that the release cannot be capped or otherwise stopped, only evacuation is possible.
LNG is recognized for its terrorism potential, whether contained in facilities or transported in ships, trucks or rail cars. The worst case scenario: LNG release fire and explosion hazards can cause many deaths and injuries over a wide area, as was shown in the Cleveland, Ohio, LNG release in 1944 that killed 127.
The released LNG vapor cloud, flammable over a large range of 5%-15% ratio of vapor to air, may result in different high-risk consequences:
1. If ignited immediately at the point of release — e.g., a derailment — it can burn with a high and very hot fire four times hotter than other flammable cargoes.
2. If not ignited immediately, the cloud can travel downwind long distances, as the most recent federal regulatory documents admit, and then either:
a. find a source of ignition in the community — car starting, cigarette lighter, spark — then produce a high hot fire that can burn back to the source of release, or
b. become confined — held up in a ditch or between two houses or by a fence or row of trees or under a railcar — and then spontaneously explode (vapor cloud explosion), the behavior of which federal agencies are only beginning to research carefully after four major disasters worldwide surprised all the gas science experts again. Federal agencies most recently declined to calculate the downwind distances an unignited flammable LNG vapor cloud could travel into communities, saying the task was too difficult. The most important risk document that FECR has commissioned, from exponent consultants, is being kept secret from citizens who filed FOIA requests. Florida officials should be demanding it and showing the citizens.
In the most recent U.S. LNG facility release with fires and explosions, the 2014 Williams LNG event in the small town of Plymouth, Washinton, that injured on-site workers, the responding nearby Fire Chief Lonnie Click taking Incident Command said, “I got my LNG 101 training as I was driving the half hour from my town to the incident.” He consulted the U.S. Emergency Response Guidebook 2012 on recommended LNG emergency evacuation — for one mile — and immediately decided to double that with a two-mile evacuation order. A difficult proposition if in a populated area.
Contrary to what was previously believed by gas scientists, two LNG truck accidents in Spain have shown that LNG containers exposed to a sustained fire underneath can also explode in a “BLEVE,” a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion.
U.S. fire departments are being deliberately misled in training materials provided by industry and federal agencies about the potential of preventing or extinguishing an LNG release. Even for a very small release, the potential for using foam or dry chemical is a dubious proposition.
As one Florida cruise ship port’s hazardous materials fire chief has privately said, after viewing the LNG fire suppression training recommendations provided to several port fire departments from the Florida East Coast Railroad’s LNG emergency response training, “We just laughed at it. I’m not doing any of that.”
The recent federally funded LNG training concocted at the National Association of State Fire Marshals for nationwide use even dangerously tries to enlist the U.S. fire service as a newly informed team of local experts, encouraging them to participate in LNG public siting proceedings, specifically to counter and calm down the citizens who fear LNG disaster risks.
This heightens disaster risks for the emergency responders and for the communities. Florida State agencies just turn a blind eye and say, “not our job.”
Fred Millar is a policy analyst, researcher, educator, and consultant with more than three decades of experience assessing the risks associated with transporting hazardous materials. Over the course of his career, he advised governmental legislative and regulatory bodies, national chemical and oil worker and rail unions, insurance companies, fire service associations, citizen organizations, and environmental groups on the unique health and safety hazards of shipping hazardous materials by rail, including crude oil. He testified before both houses of the United States Congress and lectured in 12 countries on chemical facility and chemical transportation accident prevention. He lives in the Washington, DC area.