Report Cites Dangers to Boston of LNG Spill

May 17, 2004

A leak from a liquefied natural gas tanker in Boston Harbor could catch fire and even explode, threatening people three-quarters of a mile away, according to a new government report. But the report came with a number of caveats.

The report by ABS Consulting was commissioned by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The report also concluded that in some scenarios, a leak could create a flammable vapor cloud that might travel several thousand feet before dissipating.

U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said the report “suggests that some of the accident scenarios involve enormous fires that could cause deaths, severe burns to people several thousand feet away, and hot enough to burn wood and melt steel closer in.”

Markey said in some scenarios an explosion was possible and the findings were “very sobering.”

But at the same time, the report’s authors noted, their report had its limitations. The report said that, for example, there is no experimental data available to act as a model for a major LNG spill.

The report said, “the recommended methods have limitations, including uncertainty in the results they produce.”

The report also noted that it only addresses the potential consequences of a leak, without looking at whether such an event was likely to happen.

“LNG vessel and associated facility operations are highly regulated and closely monitored/controlled by authorities, so many layers of protection exist against losses. The dependability of these layers of protection was not addressed in this project, but are important considerations in understanding the total risk picture,” the report’s introduction noted.

Fall River Mayor Ed Lambert was concerned that regulators don’t know enough about the potential dangers of tankers carrying the fuel through populated areas.

“This confirms that people don’t have definitive answers about what could happen with a spill or an accident or a terrorist attack,” Lambert said.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, LNG tankers were temporarily barred from Boston Harbor. Fears that the tankers could be targeted for terrorist attacks were raised higher recently when the FBI revealed that stowaways with links to al-Qaida had entered Boston on the tankers as far back as 1995.

LNG tankers pass through Boston Harbor on their way to a terminal in Everett. An LNG terminal is also being proposed for Fall River.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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