As a resident of northwest Bernalillo County, I’m worried about NM Gas Company’s plan for a 1 billion cubic foot Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) facility near Double Eagle Airport. The project poses health and safety concerns for first responders, and for the 40,000-plus surrounding residents and seven schools in the area.
With recent explosions at an LNG facility in Texas, I’m concerned residents of Rio Rancho and Albuquerque are being put at risk. For what? Is it worth it? NM Gas Company’s LNG proposal will go before the Public Relations Committee this fall. It’s time for Rio Rancho City Councilors and the Mayor to tune in, because the more I read about LNG, I find that when things go wrong, they can go catastrophically wrong.
LNG is fracked methane gas that has been supercooled and compressed through an energy intensive process to very low temperatures, around -260 degrees Fahrenheit. LNG is highly flammable and in the event of a leak or malfunction, it can rapidly vaporize, leading to the formation of a volatile gas cloud. The release of such a cloud can result in fires that spread rapidly, endangering not only the immediate storage facility but surrounding areas, which are already prone to wildfire.
One year ago (June 8, 2022), there was an explosion at the Freeport LNG Facility in Texas, when a pressure release valve failed to open. The buildup of pressure caused the LNG gas to expand and boil, leading to a pipeline rupture. The explosion created a 450-foot-high fireball. Fortunately, there were no fatalities, but Naomi Yoder, a staff scientist with Healthy Gulf based in Houston, believes the troubles at Freeport LNG offers a warning to other communities. “All of these LNG plants have a significant risk because they’re storing this huge amount of frozen methane,” Yoder said. “There’s the potential for a much bigger, more catastrophic incident.” Will Rio Rancho heed this warning?
LNG accidents present unique challenges to first responders, straining the capabilities of even the most well-equipped emergency services and requiring the evacuation of residents for at least a mile around a plant. Is Rio Rancho willing to put our first responders and neighbors at risk? “LNG is a beast when it comes to hazards and particularly fire and explosion,” said Faisal Khan, director of the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center at Texas A&M University. “It can easily escalate.”
In the event of a major accident, nearby communities may be exposed to toxic gasses. And what about the risk of wildfires? The potential consequences extend beyond immediate injuries and property damage, as the release of harmful substances can have long-term health impacts including cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological problems. Is New Mexico Gas Company being transparent and forthright with these potential short- and long-term risks?
Accidents, like last year’s explosion at the Freeport LNG Facility in Texas, like major incidents in Algeria, Cleveland, Staten Island and Plymouth, serve as warnings about LNG. The handling of LNG is complex and dangerous, straining emergency services. Rio Rancho city councilors and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission must prioritize community safety over all else.
Michael Sweringen