In Memoriam

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Proposed LNG Terminals Make Us Sacrificial Lambs

While we were sleeping, not one, but two companies have decided that the Ventura County coast would make an excellent spot to off-load imported liquid natural gas (LNG) to meet the state's energy needs. The announcement of the second LNG plant for the Ventura County coast should serve as a serious wake-up call to the residents of Oxnard.

The proposals come within weeks of the announcement by Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan that a shortage of natural gas threatens the nation's economy, because many electric power plants now run on natural gas.

One of the LNG plants, proposed by Crystal Energy LLC, a Houston company, claims it can deliver up to 25 percent of California's natural gas needs by establishing an LNG terminal on an abandoned oil-drilling platform 10.5 miles off the coast. Tankers would offload the LNG at the platform where it would return to gaseous state before being pumped through a pipeline coming ashore near Oxnard's Mandalay Power Station.

Crystal Energy claims there is no risk to residents, but others disagree. An accident under certain conditions could allow a cloud of only partially gasified natural gas to drift ashore where a single spark could ignite a devastating fireball.

The second LNG plant has been proposed by BPH Billiton, an Australian company. As with the other project, this one also proposes that LNG would be offloaded at a platform, this one especially built for the purpose. Again, it will be converted to gas before being pumped ashore through a pipeline. It is harder to argue against this project because at 20 miles offshore, it's almost twice as far away from the coast, beyond shipping lanes and the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary. The company proposes to bring the pipeline ashore at Ormond Beach, with high density housing in nearby Port Hueneme on one side and military installations on the other.

With 10 protected species in a two-mile stretch of beach, Ormond Beach is gradually being recognized as a biological treasure. What a shame it would be to see wildlife in the area damaged by an accident. Increases in vessel traffic in the channel will also negatively impact the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary.

And what about terrorism? A 950-foot-long LNG tanker makes a rather large target. Late at night, there are no airflight controllers at Oxnard's airport and any pilot can take off without filing a flight plan.

Even if any chance of terrorism is thwarted, human error, the root cause of the well-known accidents such as Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, Bhopal and the Exxon Valdez, is always a factor. What relevance did the prior safety record of the companies involved have at the time of those accidents? You can still pick up tar on the beach as a result of an oil spill 34 years ago in the Santa Barbara Channel. There's no way to prevent all such accidents. Occasionally they happen. As the phrase goes, ìwhatever can go wrong will go wrong.

Gigantic car-carrying ships and banana boats are in and out of Port Hueneme every day and both commercial and sport-fishing boats ply the nearby waters. As traffic increases, so does the possibility of an accident. It only has to happen once.

Assuming minimal effect from the inevitable California earthquake would be a matter of luck, not strategy. The 1994 Northridge earthquake caused the rupture of a natural gas line in a sparsely populated area of Fillmore. Emergency response during an earthquake could be delayed.

When it comes out of the ground, natural gas has no odor. When the LNG is offloaded at either of these two projects, the characteristic scent that warns us of a gas leak would not be added until the gas had entered the gas company grid near Camarillo. Whatever the cause of a leak, be it human error, earthquakes or sabotage, because it's odorless, the leak might not be detected until it caused suffocation or accumulated within a structure and became explosive.

Crystal Energy has disclosed that the benefit to the City of Oxnard and the County of Ventura of the first project is a mere $1 million annually. There is no indication as yet what fees the City or County might derive from the BHP Billiton project. Increased safety and anti-terrorist costs, plus possible impact on property values would definitely cost more than this, not to mention the cost of a potential accident.

We must mobilize to oppose these two facilities. The potential for damage to our community and environment is large, and the money offered to Oxnard and Ventura County will not offset safety costs. Any citizen capable of picking up the phone and calling or writing to elected representatives must be willing to do so repeatedly to successfully defeat these projects. Otherwise, adjust to the fact that, in case of accident, we've been selected as a sacrificial lamb for the sake of the California economy and the financial benefit of a couple of companies located far away.

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by Janet Bridgers
Earth Alert