Study: LNG Explosion Would Not Reach Land

Wednesday, April 19, 2006
A catastrophic release of liquefied natural gas from a terminal proposed off the Ventura County coast could spread a powerful and spectacular fireball over several miles, but pose no threat on land because the facility would be at least 14 miles offshore, a new study shows. The gas-processing plant, one of four proposed for Southern California, would convert fuel shipped from across the Pacific Ocean for use in Los Angeles-area factories and power plants. Such terminals operate around the world with a good safety record, yet the newly released analysis shows that the effect of a worst-case disaster would be significantly greater than identified when the project, called Cabrillo Port, was proposed nearly three years ago. Critics, including local officials and conservationists, said safety and environmental concerns would only prompt more opposition to the project. But BHP Billiton, the Australian energy company proposing it, said the floating facility can be safely managed. A sudden release of up to 200,000 cubic meters of fuel from two of three tanks of liquefied natural gas at a terminal moored between Malibu and Port Hueneme would result in a fast-moving airborne vapor eruption spanning up to 6.3 miles — four times farther than originally thought, according to a revised draft environmental impact statement. The "vapor cloud fire," which would cease about 5.7 miles from land, could disrupt shipping in the Santa Barbara Channel and affect ships and recreational boaters. Such an event is considered highly unlikely, yet the potential for terrorist attacks, sabotage, shipping collisions or industrial upsets has led to increased scrutiny of security and safety measures for liquefied natural gas terminals proposed along the California coast. Since the Cabrillo Port project is in an early stage of development, design and safety features can be included, such as firefighting contingencies and establishing barriers between gas storage tanks and processing equipment. The proposed $500m project consists of three major components: a floating processing terminal the size of three football fields, underwater pipelines to the Reliant Energy Co. power generating station in Oxnard, and additional pipelines near Camarillo and in Santa Clarita. Liquefied natural gas is super-chilled for ocean transport, then reconverted to vapor to heat homes, manufacture products and generate electricity. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also required BHP to prepare a security plan. The company proposes a 1,640-foot security zone around the terminal and two tugboats to patrol surrounding waters. (Source: Los Angeles Times)
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