Cove Point might become operational

Oct 28, 2001 02:00 AM

As it is, much of the natural gas enters the state through a pipeline that connects to the Texas fields. To get more, it's necessary to tap into overseas supplies, which requires liquefaction for efficient transport. The LNG technology has been around for decades, but the 1944 Cleveland catastrophe "basically stopped the LNG facility business for 20 years," says Jim Lewis of PTL Associates in Houston, which advises energy companies on LNG safety issues.
The Cleveland disaster occurred, says Lewis, because the tanks were made of weak steel and the facility was built close to a residential neighbourhood. Since then, detailed safety standards have been developed, overseen now by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the US Coast Guard. Drainage ditches and buffer zones are intended to contain any leaks or fires within the LNG property.
In a worse-case scenario, says Lewis, leaks would cause a "flammable vapour," not an explosive fireball. "Keep in mind," he says, "there hasn't been a public fatality in an LNG facility in the last 50 years of worldwide operations," although some workers have died in plant fires.

In the 1970s, four LNG facilities were built in the United States -- Cove Point, Maryland, in Chesapeake Bay; Savannah, Georgia; Lake Charles, Louisiana; and Boston. Most were built in response to the '70s energy crisis. All but the Boston facility were mothballed in the 1980s.
In recent years, as prices improved, the Louisiana and Georgia plants have been re-opened, and last spring the Williams Co. stared a lengthy permitting process to re-start the Maryland plant, which is several miles away from a nuclear power generator. Even before Sept. 11, local residents and politicians expressed fears that Cove Point could be vulnerable to terrorist attacks, and in recent weeks opposition has intensified.
On Oct. 12, FERC approved reopening the facility, but the Coast Guard still must do a safety study. Because of the opposition, spokesman Lt. Commander Gordon Loebl says he has no idea when Cove Point might become operational. Because of scenarios like this, the major energy companies have been looking outside the United States for LNG ports and re-gasification plants.

Chevron is teaming with Canadian Irving to plan a $ 320 mm LNG plant in St. John, New Brunswick, that would serve the north-eastern United States. A consortium is looking at the Mexican region of Baja California for a plant that would serve Southern California. Shell Oil and El Paso are considering a plant on Mexico's Gulf Coast, to serve Texas and the Southwest. The Bahamas facilities would be intended for LNG shipped from Trinidad, and perhaps Venezuela, Nigeria, Algiers and Egypt.

Source: The Miami Herald
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