New Mexico Gas Company [NMGC] wants residents complacently to accept a pig in a poke — keeping hidden the serious chemical release risks of a new Liquefied Natural Gas [LNG] facility at Quail Ranch, whose promoters have publicly been calling it relatively harmless-sounding “storage.”
In fact, it will be a liquefaction facility, a complex of pressurized operations with six employees involving transfer from a gas pipeline, intense refrigeration of the gas using highly flammable refrigerants from onsite tanks, transferring of LNG to a huge insulated storage tank, then regasification and periodic loading of tanker trucks for transporting through towns to distant destinations. Residents should demand information on what could go wrong and what safeguards are needed.
The very first large U.S. LNG liquefaction facility was in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1944, its storage tank failed catastrophically, releasing waves of LNG into streets and subways, killing 131 residents and seriously curtailing enthusiasm for US expansion of the LNG industry for decades.
An LNG facility or truck transportation release will be a cold, ground-hugging flammable cloud 600 times larger than the container. Local emergency responders will not pretend to be able to deal with such events except by evacuation. The industry suggests that a half-mile initial evacuation would be appropriate.
NMGC produces the usual assurances that the facility and any associated trucking operations are virtually perfectly safe. The potential disaster risk will extend along the facility’s delivery transportation routes. NMGC does not mention any effort to select the safest routes.
NMGC ‘s application blandly asserts that U.S. LNG trucking has long operated “without incident.” Nationally transportation by truck of LNG has been going on for many years with only a few accidents [not totally “without incident”] — and no disasters yet. But LNG has long been a tiny part of the US energy picture until recently. Its ongoing fast growth will increase the chances of truck accident releases that can produce impressive LNG fires and explosions, as we have seen recently in Spain and China.
Long fearful of LNG facility and transportation releases, many communities on the U.S. East and West coasts have successfully mobilized to resist the imposition of risky new large LNG export facilities. So the big export plants instead are metastasizing along the regulatory friendly Gulf Coast. Recent major LNG explosions at a Freeport, Texas, facility and major leakage over years from a Louisiana LNG plant sobered federal and local officials.\
NMGC’s planned “peak-shaving” local liquefaction/storage facility will be much smaller, but NMGC should in advance be forced to provide the community and first responders with several kinds of potential release risk information, worst case accident scenarios and related information.
Federal chemical safety regulations have long been admittedly inadequate. The Trump Administration promoted export of U.S. LNG and opened the whole U.S. rail system for the first time to LNG tank cars in long unit trains, despite the lack of market for these. A Trump regulator calculated that a single LNG railcar release, if unignited, could go some “distance” into a nearby community before massively exploding, but he steadfastly declined to publicly disclose that distance. New Mexico communities should be well apprised of these potential risks before any LNG plant or transport is permitted.