WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and other top members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, today released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, “Public Safety Consequences of a Terrorist Attack on a Tanker Carrying Liquefied Natural Gas” highlighting incomplete research by the Government on the effects of a terrorist attack on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tankers. GAO urges the Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct new studies on public impacts from a major fire or vapor cloud release from an attack on an LNG tanker. This GAO report coincides with a projected 400 percent increase in LNG imports over the next 10 years at a time when energy companies have submitted 32 applications to build new terminals in 10 states and five off shore areas. Representatives John Dingell (D-MI), Joe Barton (R-TX) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) joined Congressman Markey in releasing the report.

(A copy of the GAO report can be found by pointing your browsers to:

Rep. Markey, whose district includes the nation's only urban LNG importation terminal, the Distrigas facility in Everett, said, "GAO found that there are widely conflicting estimates regarding the worst-case consequences of a terrorist attack on LNG tankers. Given the fact that LNG is being transported into Boston harbor every several days on the way to the Everett LNG terminal, it's very troubling that our knowledge about the potential public safety consequences of a terrorist attack on these vessels is not better."

Specifically, GAO's report urged DOE to study the heat effects from large pool fires, rather than relying on hypothetical estimates based on much smaller fires that may not be representative. Sandia National Laboratory plans to carry out such research later this year. This research is important because new tankers are being deployed which are nearly twice as large as current day tankers and could fuel even larger fires than have been considered by the regulators.

“The GAO also reports that a study the Energy Department recently commissioned to address large-scale LNG fires only looks at 3 of the top 10 issues that the experts believe need to be addressed, and that this DOE study won't include any examination of one of the most serious accident scenarios that experts believe could cause the most damage -- a cascading failure of the LNG tanks on these vessels. I believe the Energy Department needs to expand its current LNG study immediately so that it examines all of the top LNG safety issues that GAO has identified,” Rep. Markey concluded.

GAO also recommended that DOE study cascading failures of multiple LNG cargo tanks, in the event of a terrorist attack. A typical LNG tanker has five LNG storage tanks and holds 125,000 cubic feet of LNG chilled to -260 Fahrenheit. A single tank failure could trigger additional tanks to fail and leak LNG. For example, LNG flooding the inside of a ship's hull at -260 F could embrittle the ship's structure and cause it to fracture; this would cause additional LNG tanks to break open and feed the fire. A single tank fire could also lead to other tanks leaking if a major fire damaged the ship or other storage tanks. In addition, multiple attacks on a ship could lead to multiple tank spills. However, most experts surveyed by GAO agree that cascading events are not expected to increase overall fire size or hazard ranges (more than 20-30 percent).

The GAO surveyed 19 LNG experts who agreed that 1) the most likely public safety impact of an LNG spill is heat impact of a fire, 2) explosions are not likely to occur in the wake of an LNG spill, and 3) some hazards, such as freeze burns and asphyxiation, do not pose a hazard to the public. Eleven of these 19 experts agreed that the one mile protection zone to protect public health from heat impact of a fire and used by federal agencies in assessing waterways and permitting LNG terminals is "about right" or "should be smaller", and four experts believed the protection zone was not large enough. In the event of a leak, an LNG vapor cloud could ignite and the resulting fire would burn back towards to site of spill. These fires would burn over the pool of LNG floating on the water, and tend to be much hotter than an oil fire. These experts recommended further studies over what size boundary is correct, as did GAO.

A 2004 study conducted by Sandia National Labs, which is used today as a guideline by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Coast Guard, is the basis for setting the one mile exclusion zones around LNG facilities and tankers in the event that there is a major spill and fire. However, the Sandia report notes there are numerous inconsistencies between studies used to estimate consequences from an attack on an LNG tanker. Given this sea of uncertainty, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Committee on Homeland Security and U.S. Representative Edward Markey asked the GAO to assess what is a credible worst case scenario and whether the Coast Guard and FERC are taking sufficient protective measures to protect the public.

March 14, 2007

CONTACT: Vikrum Aiyer
David Moulton