New Analysis Says Probable LNG Trucking Disaster in DeRenne Can Prove to be Fatal


The new analysis shows a very grim scenario involving just one 13,000- gallon LNG tanker truck. If the tanker truck leaked out in a road accident and got lit -- even people who are almost 700 feet away from the scene and unprotected will be inflicted with blistering burns.

The proposed route where 58 trucks could pass everyday carrying LNG out from Elba Island is from President Street to the Truman Parkway and across DeRenne Avenue to Interstate 516. Surrounding the hazard zone are both Memorial's and Candler's emergency rooms, Spencer and Pulaski elementary schools, Buckingham South retirement community, the Children's House day care facility, Svannah's wastewater treatment plant, and portions of many neighborhoods.

Chuck Watson, a resident of Savannah, and a scientist involved in energy and natural hazards research and risk assessments, designed the hazard zone adopting National Fire Protection Association codes and methods akin to those approved by the U.S. Government Accountability Office's panel of LNG experts earlier this year.

"The U.S. National Fire Protection Association guidelines that the Department of Transportation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are supposed to follow are that an LNG facility should not allow more than 5 kilowatts per meter squared of thermal radiation off property," said Watson, founder of Watson Technical Consulting. "That is the level at which an unprotected person would get second-degree burns in 30 seconds."

Watson favors European standards for its consistency with earthquake and hurricane risks, and are stricter in this regard. With this standard, both fixed LNG facilities and regular LNG routes are kept farther away from schools, hospitals, retirement homes, and similar institutions with unprotected populations by placing the acceptable off-property thermal radiation at lower level of 1.5 kilowatt per meter square – at this level those in the area can move out without injury, in case of LNG accidents. By using the standard, Watson estimated a more conservative radius of 1,200 feet from the route.

LNG is methane gas cooled to minus 260 degrees. In its liquid state, it will not burn, but if it get spilled, vapor from it can ignite and produce a pool of fire that burns intensely hot. Watson wrote in a recent op-ed, "so hot it can cause burns and trigger secondary fires at a considerable distance from the fire itself."

Watson anticipated that such a pool of fire in traffic would make close by vehicles burst into flames and cause multiple severe burn injuries and even casualties. Firefighters can do little to suppress the damage – the standard procedure for dealing with a pool of fire is to let it burn itself out.

To ease the concerns about trucking, local LNG officials point to the unlikelihood of an accident.

"There's been a lot of focus on consequence and not on probability," said Bruce Hughes, president of Southeast LNG, which would run the trucking operation. "You have a better chance of dying going to the meeting Thursday night than from an LNG truck accident."

The probability of dying in an LNG accident is "Virtually nil," according to Hughes. Spokesman for the parent company El Paso and a colleague of Hughes, Bill Baerg, implied Savannahian were more likely to be hit by a crashing airplane on DeRenne than killed in an LNG fire.

Watson, who's into probabilities, belittled the last comparison. "That is such an exaggeration - that's beyond the pale," he said.

"Rationally it's about 1 in 200 years," he said. But the consequences are great. Do you want a 1 in 200 chance every year of shutting down the ER and killing a couple hundred people?"

Still, Baerg and others have also over and over again pointed to LNG's safety record.

LNG trucking across the U.S., had more than 750,000 trips, there have been fewer than 30 accidents, in the span of 40 years. According to company's data provided to federal regulators, only one resulted in the liquid vaporizing and no one was hurt in that incident.

General manager of Southern LNG,Chris Humes, noted that 470 tanker truck trips were made out of Elba in the 1970s without any incident.

But the argumentative point between LNG advocates and critics is the LNG trucking accident that happened in 2002 in Tivissa, Spain,

Baerg argued that that accident wouldn't happen in the U.S. since this country's standard requires double-hulled tankers with insulation between. He even implied that it is unfair to discuss the incident without making that clear first.

Watson on the other hand was not looking at the Travissa accident to prove that LNG trucking is a moving disaster. He even admits that an LNG disaster is quite rare. His argument is that there could be severe consequences if a leaked pool of LNG burned on a congested road.

"Yes, it's low probability, but it's high consequence," Watson said. "An accident anywhere on that stretch of DeRenne could easily kill or injure as many as 200 people."