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Study says LNG tankers pose terrorist target

The Daily ItemLynn ? If terrorists attacked a tanker ship carrying liquefied natural gas, like those heading routinely into densely-populated Everett, fierce fire from the explosion could burn people up to a mile away, according to a new government study.The study, released Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office, recommended the Energy Department conduct additional research to determine how much of a public safety risk is created by these massive ships and any inferno that might result from an explosion aboard.Although the study is likely to catch the public’s attention, it was not much different from a 160-page government report released in December 2004 that also concluded a terror attack on an LNG tanker in a U.S. port could set off a fire so hot it would burn skin and damage buildings nearly a mile away.That earlier report, which resulted from a yearlong study by scientists at Sandia National Laboratory, a premier federal research facility, was expected to influence where multi-billion-dollar LNG terminals are built.The Sandia scientists did not recommend prohibiting tankers from carrying LNG through urban areas, such as the docks in Everett and near Chelsea.Seagoing tankers, each of which carries up to 33 million gallons of LNG, arrive every few days at four U.S. terminals: Everett; Cove Point, Md.; Elba Island, Ga., and Lake Charles, La. All these facilities are expanding as regulators weigh the merits of putting more than three dozen more such terminals at U.S. ports, many in urban areas.Meanwhile, energy companies have been prompted to take a harder look at offshore facilities, such as the one recently authorized off the coast of Gloucester. The ship is docked at an offshore platform where the LNG is converted into natural gas and piped ashore.Scientists note that in its minus-260 degrees liquid state, LNG cannot explode and is not flammable. However, if a missile or explosive tore a hole in a tanker, the escaping liquid could be transformed instantly into a gas and probably would ignite in a widespread fireball. Most of the damage would be incurred within 550 yards of the blast site, according to the Sandia report, which further noted that terrorists, using readily available weapons and technology, could blast a 10-foot hole into the side of an LNG tanker.Lawmakers said the latest GAO study coincides with projected increases of 400 percent in LNG imports over the next decade, as energy companies await federal approval on 32 applications to build new terminals in 10 states and five offshore areas.New tanker ships under construction are nearly twice as large as present models.”Although LNG tankers have not been subject to a catastrophic accident or attack, we need to ensure regulators are making decisions with a large enough margin of safety to account for the threats in a post-9/11 environment,” said Rep. John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, said such natural gas shipments have an excellent safety record. Tankers have operated nearly 50 years without a major spill, he said, adding that maintaining mandatory “protection zones” around tankers is adequate.The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved 13 applications for LNG terminals, many of them close to populated areas.A half-dozen facilities have been proposed in the Northeast, often in urban areas. Among them is a 1,200-foot long, 180-foot wide offshore terminal that Broadwater Energy wants to build in Long Island Sound 10 miles south of New Haven, Conn., and nine miles from Wading River, N.Y.Associated Press material was used in this report.

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