May 10, 2005

LNG III: Clark's Report

Marc Comtois

Richard Clarke has produced his risk analysis report (PDF)concerning expanding the KeySpan LNG facility in Providence. Given that he was hired by Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who opposes the plan, it should come as no surprise that Clarke found the proposal too risky and attractive to terrorists to be recommended. His "NET ASSESSMENT" summarizes his conclusion and offers the logical point (stripping away the hyperbole) from which to start a serious debate over where to locate an LNG facility.

While there is no adequate way in which to determine the probability of a terrorist attack on the proposed urban LNG facility and inland waterway transit routing, there is adequate grounds to judge that such an attack would be consistent with terrorists demonstrated intent and capability. There is also a basis to judge that likely enhanced security measures would not significantly reduce the risk. While there are some differences among experts about the conditions needed to generate a catastrophic explosion and about the precise extent of the resulting damage, there is significant grounds to conclude that a high risk exists of catastrophic damage from the types of attacks terrorists are capable of mounting. Those damage levels would overwhelm regional trauma, burn, and emergency medical capabilities. The LNG facility’s insurance is likely to be inadequate to fully compensate victims and to rebuild facilities. Siting the LNG off loading facility in a non-urban setting would reduce the terrorists’ incentives to attack it. Non-urban locations may possibly increase costs to the LNG operator and consumers.

If all alternative sites do cost more and governments decide to proceed with the proposed urban location because of that cost differential, then the cost trade off can be precisely measured. Governments would be deciding that avoiding the possible additional financial cost to the LNG operator and/or consumers of a more secure location is more important public policy than avoiding the additional risk of a catastrophic attack involving mass trauma and burn injuries which does accompany a decision to permit an urban LNG facility. [Source: LNG Facilities in Urban Areas: A Security Risk Analysis for Attorney General Patrick Lynch Rhode Island, p. 9-10.]

If this premise is accepted, then it follows that the argument of $'s for lives is an emotionally, and thus politically, unwinnable argument. That is why reasonable and cost-effective alternatives will simply have to be produced. The economic burden placed on Rhode Island by limited energy supplies needs to be addressed. As I've written before, the LNG shipping and offloading industry is intrinsically safe with a virtually spotless record. It is only when the spectre of terrorism is mentioned, correctly if sometimes too hysterically, that the dangers are nigh irrefutable. In a pre-9/11 world, the fears of an LNG explosion would be hysterical. But that's not the world we live in now.


A Letter to the Ed. of the ProJo today (5/13/05) echoes my feelings.

Well, surprise, surprise! Richard Clarke has provided Rhode Island Atty. Gen. Patrick Lynch, Governor Carcieri, Providence Mayor Cicilline, and the various General Assembly naysayers (none of whom know anything about liquefied-natural-gas tankers) with what they were looking for: a doomsday report.

Has it occurred to any of these people that the real risk is not in the LNG tankers' plying the Bay but in a structure that already exists: the storage-and-transfer facility? Shore-based facilities are far more vulnerable to terrorist attack than are ships at sea, with their varying courses, speeds, and schedules.

Has any of these people picked up the phone to talk to someone who actually knows something about ships, and energy?

Roger Buck, a retired Navy captain, has "spent more time on a backing bell" in Narragansett Bay than these people have collectively spent aboard vessels of any kind. Captain Buck has also spent a second career analyzing and administering the energy needs of Rhode Island. I doubt there is anyone better qualified to speak on this issue. (See "Our suicidal NIMBYism: One LNG tanker or 2,000 trucks?" Commentary, March 26.)

While Captain Buck may not have the celebrity that Richard Clarke has, I would take his advice over Mr. Clarke's any day. Captain Buck lives in Newport; his phone number is in the book.

I do not mean to make light of a terrorism risk. However, anyone with half an imagination can conjure up disaster scenarios involving acts of terrorism. The conclusion that we cannot possibly defend against all potential threats is precisely why we have taken the war to the terrorists, and why the war our sons and daughters are fighting around the world is so important to our security and way of life.

For Rhode Island it is far more likely that the greater risk comes from lack of energy resources, rather than from exploding tankers. It does not even take a consultant with an imagination to tell us the consequences of having insufficient electricity to turn on the lights or insufficient oil and natural gas to heat our homes during a frigid winter.

Our failure to develop alternative energy resources has left us with few choices here in New England, yet our "leaders" perceive that their political survival is more secure if they follow a policy of NIMBYism.

LNG tankers provide a modest but real solution to the urgent need for acceptable energy resources. The risk involved with the tankers is manageable. Anyone who gets in an automobile containing 20 gallons of a horrifying substance called gasoline should understand the concept.

It is time for our "leaders" to get their facts straight and show some political courage, for a change.



I agree with MacDougall, but my analysis and writing on this issue is based on the premise that there is no way that we will be able to overcome RI nimbyism, especially when the political will is obviously not there.