Saturday, January 24, 2009

FUNDY OPINION - St. Andrews citizens will be burning

By Art MacKAY

The US Coast Guard's recently released Waterway Suitability Report, prepared for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) Downeast LNG application, will have the residents of New Brunswick's premier resort area burning again.

When, on the heels of Quoddy Bay LLC's earlier proposal at Sipayik, Downeast LNG first introduced their plan to construct an LNG terminal and storage facility directly across the St.Croix River from St. Andrews at Robbinston, Me., the citizens of that resort town and the greater Quoddy Region rose as one to denounce these developments and made their position clear with submissions to FERC and government officials in both Canada and the United States. Impressive, passionate, packed public meetings and protests were held.

Subsequently, Canadian opponents to the LNG plans have been supported at every political level in Canada. Conservative Prime Minister Harper and local Member of Parliament Greg Thompson have publicly, and in closed session with President George W. Bush, expressed their firm position that tankers will not be allowed through Head Harbour Passage, the essential waterway that they consider to be internal Canadian waters and, in the long term, too valuable and hazardous a waterway to be used by super tankers. This was a similar position to that taken about 30 years ago when the Pittston Company of Greenwich, Conn., applied to turn Eastport and Moose Island into a gigantic oil refinery and tank farm, threatening fishing, tourism, marine life, and whales including the endangered north Atlantic right whale.

In previous responses to Quoddy Bay LLC, the U.S.Coast Guard stated that the participation of the Canadian government was paramount to their release of a similar report for Quoddy Bay LLC and it [participation] was withheld. This is not the case with the Downeast LNG proposal. In this case, while the report requires Canadian consultation by Downeast LNG, the USCC has chosen to assess Canadian waters without the approval of Canada, an interesting move that causes great concern in a contest that, more and more, seems to revolve around testing Canadian sovereignty and, not incidentally, Canadian resolve.

IN SPITE OF THE WEAK OUTER LINE in the accompanying chart taken from the USCC Waterway Suitability Study, St. Andrews citizens can now see that they are within the hazard zone for this development. A similar study for Calais LNG will, undoubtedly, duplicate this scenario, but will move Zone 3 more deeply into the town as tankers move up the St.Croix River.

The USCC defines these zones as:

  • Zone 1 — 500-metre radius with resultant fire and severe thermal radiation hazards. By definition these are areas in which LNG shipments occur in relatively narrow harbours or channels, or ships pass under major bridges or over tunnels, or come in within 500 metres of major infrastructure such as military installations, commercial/business centers, or national icons.
  • Zone 2 — from 500 to 1,600 metres with less severe thermal radiation hazards to public safety and property. These are areas of broader channel widths, larger open harbors, or over 500 metres from major critical infrastructure elements.
  • Zone 3 — from 1,600 to 3,500 metres with potential pockets of flammable vapor. These are areas where LNG traffic and deliveries occur approximately 1.6 kilometres from major infrastructure or in large bays or open water. The thermal radiation risks to public safety and property are significantly reduced.

    While thermal risks may be reduced with distance, MIT Professor Emeritus James Fay, points out that the actual zone of impact, the area where fires are ignited and people suffer serious burns, may be greater than the distance used in the report. He states that, "for all credible spills, including terrorist attacks on the storage tank and LNG tanker, the danger zone for humans extends almost four miles from the terminal site" or about 2.5 kilometres, and life and property will be lost from so-called collateral impacts. This greater distance envelopes all of St. Andrews and the ability of fire departments may be non-existent since their facilities are within the real zone of impact and these professionals may well be immobilized by an event itself. The nearest assistance would be St.Stephen and St.George.

    As for bringing tankers through Head Harbour Passage, this is a red herring. Of course it can be done. It's risk analysis and the real question is for how long will it take to have an accident and at what cost? Since LNG tankers can only enter and leave during the day, at slack tide (if that truly exists in some areas along the route), when the visibility is more than two miles, and the wind is less than 25 mph, then the number of days when access is available will be severely limited.

    In fact, these data are available and it is a wonder that they have not been required for the USCC report and company submissions to FERC. Imagine the financial impacts to Downeast LNG and its leader Dean Girdis during those delightful years like the one when fog held to the West Isles for more than 30 days and 30 nights. At $100,000 a day, layovers add up! Passamaquoddy Bay and key fishing areas of Campobello Island could well see numerous gigantic tankers stacked up waiting to move.

    Forget the hazardous passage and the Old Sow whirlpool, layovers will be substantial and local boats will be unable to pursue fishing, whale watching, and recreational activities during passage and while at anchor or at the terminal. The eco-economy of Quoddy will be effectively shut down. Since the arrival of tankers is "secret" due to fears of terrorism, local operators will have little time to respond and will be forced to the side by armed gunboats, as they are in Boston Harbour. What a delightful vision.

    Unless the new administration in the United States recognizes the folly of agitating their neighbours, best friends, and largest trading partner, the first LNG explosion may be coming soon, much sooner, than anticipated by the LNG promoters. A once interesting and functional "international community" that drew upon the abundant natural resources of this unique Quoddy ecosystem, has been split asunder by these LNG development proposals.

    In spite of the plethora of carpetbaggers who have wandered through Charlotte and Washington counties, some folks have never stopped looking for the knight on a white steed; the saviour who will bring economic salvation to an area of perceived poverty. The sad truth is that the wealth required to provide a truly sustainable future for all of the citizens of Quoddy has always been here for those with eyes to see.

    They will forget their old laws; they will barter their country for baubels. Then will disease eat the life from their blood. (Hanisse'ono. The Evil One from Iroquois legend).

    Art MacKay is a biologist, writer, and artist with over 40 years professional experience in the Bay of Fundy and northern Gulf of Maine. He is the author of many reports and articles about these ecosystems.