By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
More than a half-million men, women and children in South Florida who live near truck and rail routes used to ship surging supplies of volatile liquefied natural gas (LNG) are at risk of a potentially catastrophic accident, according to a national non-profit environmental advocacy group.
Those residents, as well as 228 schools and 13 hospitals, are within the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recommended one-mile evacuation radius if an LNG “tank, rail car, or tank truck is involved in a fire.”
“A container rupture, truck crash or train derailment could result in fireballs, flammable vapors, toxic fumes, and devastating fires that burn so hot that they are exceedingly difficult to extinguish and nearly impossible to contain,” says a research report released Tuesday by Food & Water Watch (FWW). “First responders often lack training in responding to liquified gas releases.”
The group is calling on Broward County commissioners to “protect residents by halting the transport of liquified gas at the Port and conducting an investigation into the operation.” Food & Water Watch made a similar overture in January. A press conference is scheduled noon Tuesday.
Port Everglades Director Jonathan Daniels has expressed confidence in the ability of Broward Sheriff’s Office firefighters at the port to handle any LNG fire. And so far, the commission has not seen fit to address the issue in a public meeting.
SAFETY TAKES A BACK SEAT
Safety concerns, however, appear to be taking a back seat to the growing economic importance of booming LNG exports, here and around the nation.
A story last September in The Maritime Executive, headlined “LNG Exports Helped Drive Historic U.S. Trade Surplus in Energy,’’ says, “Thanks in large part to LNG sales, America exported more energy than it imported last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. It is the first time that the U.S. has recorded a net energy-trade surplus since at least 1974…In 2020, the trade balance of America’s energy products – petroleum, natural gas, coal, and electricity exports – ran a net surplus of $27 billion.’’
LNG, originating as fracked gas that’s supercooled into a liquid state for transport, is shipped to Port Everglades from a liquefier plant in Hialeah owned by New Fortress Energy. New Fortress was founded and is run by billionaire Wes Edens, co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, an investment manager of $53.3 billion assets. Edens is also co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.
The Hialeah plant, capable of processing 100,000 gallons a day, started up in 2016. Fortress Investment Group subsidiary American LNG Marketing LLC began shipping that LNG in special, double-walled containers to Barbados via Seaboard Marine at PortMiami.
That year just under 100,000 MCF of natural gas was exported, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. MCF is an abbreviation for the Roman numeral M, or 1,000, and cubic feet, and a measurement for natural gas that equals 1,032 cubic feet. One MCF is approximately equal to one million British Thermal Units (BTUs).
In early 2017, American Marketing switched to shipping New Fortress’s LNG 19 miles north via King Ocean Services at Port Everglades. The liquefier plant’s LNG exports more than doubled.
LIQUIFIED GAS EXPORTS HIT RECORD
In 2021, American Marketing shipped a record 1.13 million MCF of natural gas via Port Everglades to five destinations: Haiti, The Bahamas, Barbados, Nicaragua and Jamaica.
But LNG exports via Port Everglades are flowing even faster this year. The first quarter of 2022 saw shipments to the Caribbean nearly triple from the same period in 2021.
New Fortress’s plant is one of only three locations in the U.S. where LNG transport by rail is allowed. It obtained a special permit to ship by rail from the Trump Administration in 2017 through its Doral subsidiary Energy Transport Solutions. In 2020, Florida Bulldog reported that the issuance of the permits followed Fortress Investment Group’s apparently forgiving $100 million in debt owed by President Trump.
In areas north of Port Everglades, the Florida East Coast Railway is permitted to use, and does use, LNG tank cars to fuel its engines.
The tracks of the FEC, which under the Trump Administration was awarded special federal permit to transport LNG, are also used by South Florida’s intercity passenger rail service Brightline. FEC is owned by Florida East Coast Industries, which notes on its website that it is “backed by the resources of Fortress Investment Group.”
POOR, PEOPLE OF COLOR AT MOST RISK
Seven years ago, Martin County Fire Rescue conducted a “vulnerability analysis” of FEC’s transportation of LNG. It used Environmental Protection Agency software to predict what could happen on a typical afternoon if a train crash punctured a four-inch hole in a single LNG container car that led to an explosion.
If an accident occurred at the intersection of tracks at Southeast Cove Road and Southeast Dixie Highway in Stuart, 2,410 people would be affected. Of that total, nearly 400 would experience life-threatening injuries or death, the agency said.
Of particular concern to safety advocates is the vulnerability of low-income minorities who often live near the rail line and roads used to transport LNG.
Analyzing U.S. census tract data, Food & Water Watch researchers concluded, “Environmental injustice is evident with the one-mile evacuation zone surrounding South Florida’s liquified gas transportation routes. People of color and people living in poverty are disproportionately represented when compared to the overall population of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
“Both the train and truck transportation routes cross some of the most impoverished areas of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. People in poverty are 1.3 times more likely to live within the evacuation zone, compared to residents living above the poverty line.
“Racial disparities are also evident within the evacuation zone. People of color are 1.5 times more likely to live within the one-mile evacuation zone compared to white residents, and black residents are nearly twice as likely,” the report says.
“Floridians are being unknowingly volunteered for this dangerous bomb train experiment,” the report states. “Dense communities in Broward and Miami-Dade counties are actively at risk from this project that only deepens our reliance on fossil fuels as we approach a climate crisis tipping point. It doesn’t have to be this way.”