By Ann Henson Feltgen, FloridaBulldog.org
Reacting to a significant increase in the transport of highly volatile liquefied natural gas (LNG) through Broward to Port Everglades for export, a nationwide nonprofit watchdog has asked the county commission to close the port to all future LNG shipments.
“If a puncture occurs in an LNG container from an accident, a vapor cloud can form which has the potential to cause an explosion,” Michelle Allen, regional deputy director of Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch, wrote in a Jan. 13 letter. “The handling of large quantities of LNG at Port Everglades, as well as the transport of LNG through Broward County by rail and truck, is flirting with disaster.”
If ignited by flames from an accident, Allen wrote, “a boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE) may occur, producing a fireball up to a mile wide, killing all within the immediate vicinity and overwhelming our local emergency services.”
New Fortress Energy has been exporting LNG via rail and trucks from its Hialeah Liquifier Plant through Port Everglades since 2016. Every week the plant turns natural gas, predominantly methane, into flammable LNG for shipment to Jamaica.
What prompted the organization’s concern was a Sept. 30 letter from John Fontenot, director of vessels for New Fortress Energy (NFE), to Port Everglades Director Jonathan Daniels about how the company was about to more than double its LNG shipments through the port. The letter and other documents followed a public records request.
Previously, Fontenot wrote, New Fortress had 13 double-walled LNG ISO tank containers for export, mostly at the port’s South Terminal. “We will haul 30 filled LNG ISO tanks…from Port Everglades to Jamaica where those 30 ISO tanks would be removed from the vessel,” emptied and reloaded for shipment back to Port Everglades…”This turn around is approximately 8 days. During the 8 day transit, full LNG ISO tanks will be delivered by truck from the NFE Liquefier in Miami (about 5 trucks per day) swapping out the empty ISO tanks with the full ISO tanks, so that when the vessel arrives back into Port Everglades, 30 full ISO tanks will be waiting…The cycle would then start again.”
But Daniels expressed no concerns about safety in an interview Monday. “The Broward County Sheriff’s Office is the agency that handles fire and hazmat at the port,” Daniels said. “They wrote the plan to handle LNG and evaluated the program. BSO has Station 6 here at the port and they have been trained to relate to LNG fires and other heavy fuels.”
LNG SHIPMENTS ON TRACK IN FLORIDA
Broward Mayor Michael Udine said that the port director is writing a letter to Food & Water Watch to answer questions. The matter is not on the next commission agenda, and it is too late to submit any agenda items, he added.
“I really don’t know much about this and I want to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it,” said Udine.
Commissioner Beam Furr, whose district includes the port, said he glanced at the letter from Food & Water Watch and would look into it, though he has limited knowledge about LNG at the port.
The Biden Administration’s Proposed Rule suspended transporting LNG by rail last August and asked a task force to review the safety issue and bring back recommendations. This was Biden’s response to former President Donald Trump’s effort to fast-track LNG transport by rail.
While LNG shipments by train stopped elsewhere, Trump issued special permits to haul LNG that were exempt from Biden’s rule and moratorium. Freight trucks have been hauling LNG for years in similar containers.
Energy Transport Solutions, a subsidiary of NFE, was issued two special permits by Trump to haul LNG by rail. Of the two permits, one was for an LNG plant in Hialeah to send LNG to ports in Miami, Jacksonville or anywhere else in Florida. The second permit was for a plant in Pennsylvania, which is not yet operating. A third permit previously issued to a plant in Alaska is no longer in use.
Meanwhile, Biden’s task force completed the first of two phases of its investigation into LNG shipments by rail. It will complete its work on phase two in mid-2022, according to the docket. Public comments ended in December 2021.
LNG SHIPMENTS INCREASE DESPITE FEARS
Food & Water Watch and other watchdog organizations as well as other experts in the field have been raising concerns about the corridor routes through heavily populated areas such as South Florida. LNG is combustible natural gas that is chilled to -260° F, where it becomes a compact liquid allowing more gas to be shipped per load. An uncontrolled release, however, could cause a fire or explosion.
Last year NFE shipped 13 containers carrying 130,000 gallons of LNG from Port Everglades to Jamaica on a weekly basis. One 40-foot ISO container can accommodate 10,000 gallons of LNG, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. NFE’s new project greatly increases the sale of LNG to Jamaica, sending 30 containers with 300,000 gallons of LNG weekly.
Ellen Kennedy, spokeswoman for Port Everglades, said: “We’ve seen an increase in exports of LNG since 2017. In 2017 a total of 213 40-foot containers of LNG left the port and in 2021 the number increased to 1,785 containers.” She added that she didn’t know too much about LNG.
“The U.S. Coast Guard and City of Hollywood and the port’s emergency management vetted the increase proposal and made suggestions to assure safety,” she said.
FIRE FIGHTERS CONCERNED
General President Edward A. Kelly of the International Association of Fire Fighters represents 325,000 full-time fire fighters and paramedics who protect more than 85 percent of the population in communities throughout the United States and Canada. He said that most fire departments do not have enough staffing or training to handle an LNG fire.
“According to the recently released National Fire Protection Association report, the Fifth Fire Service Needs Assessment Survey, fire departments across America lack sufficient staffing to respond to catastrophic Hazmat incidents, such as an LNG rail car rupture,’’ he said. “In particular, fire departments serving communities of 25,000 or less face the most dire staffing deficiencies, often responding to emergencies with 12 fire fighters or less.”
D. Joe Griffin, General Counsel for TriSMART Solar, made several other points: “We live a block from a rail line that runs along the Mississippi. One spill or explosion would wipe out everything.
“The transportation of LNG by rail endangers communities and accelerates the climate crisis rather than combat(s) it.
“LNG is hazardous and highly flammable. In the event of a railway accident, it can lead to an inextinguishable fire that local emergency responders are ill-equipped to handle, putting communities bordering the railway route – often unfairly burdened by pollution – in harm’s way,” he said.
While New Fortress Energy ramps up LNG shipments, Food & Water Watch says it will continue its drive to stop sending LNG by rail.
“The evidence is clear – LNG is a danger to our communities and climate. We shouldn’t be moving it through our communities and we shouldn’t be selling it out of our ports,” said Allen. “The Broward County Commission must exercise its role in keeping residents safe, by directing Port Everglades to not accept LNG at the port.”