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Coming to a Community Near You: An LNG Storage Facility
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by Linda Fennell and Imani Kazana | 2006

Think a residential area isn't the safest place for LNG storage tanks? The gas company disagrees, and warns neighbors to "get used to it."

In a colorful and honest manner, Jeffrey Beale, President of CH IV International, a technical services company specializing in LNG terminal start-ups, laid the fact straight out on the table: “There will be LNG facilities in communities and people will live around them.”  This was his response to a question asking whether the gas company had investigated alternative sites that would be more appropriate for a hazardous material facility. That was an interesting statement to the Avondale Citizens Association, the Washington Gas Watch Alliance and other interested persons who listened to eight hours of Washington Gas experts’ testimony before the Prince George’s County Zoning Hearing Examiner on January 18.

This hearing was a continuation of the Washington Gas Company’s zoning application for a special exception to construct a liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facility at 2130 Chillum Road in Hyattsville, Maryland. The Hyattsville area is home to families of various ethnic and economic backgrounds. In close proximity to the proposed LNG site are churches, shopping centers, skilled nursing facilities and a host of multi-family dwellings. At the January 18 hearing, the audience and the Zoning Hearing Examiner listened to the Chief EMS state that it would be a challenge for first responders to quickly evacuate this segment of the population. Mr. Beale and the project manager, Kevin Murphy, discussed various aspects regarding the construction of the facility.


Plant Safety Challenged

February 10, 2006, the third day of testimony before the Zoning Hearing Examiner, was an even more positive day for community opponents of the Chillum Road proposal.  The safety expert, Mr. Beale, was forced again to admit that mechanical and equipment failures can and do occur at LNG facilities, offering no guarantees to those who might live close to them. He was also questioned about a preliminary “thermal heat zone analysis” report, which the gas company had been trying to shield as “confidential.” This study revealed that the federal government’s minimal standard only considers spills and minor fires at the top of an LNG storage tank,  discounting what would happen if there were an incident involving the processing equipment at the more vulnerable bottom of these tanks. The study also focuses on an average winter weather condition, discounting times when the temperature might be below 31 degrees, with a relative humidity below 35%, and a wind speed greater than 16 mph. The company claims that a 567 ft. buffer zone would be inadequate if an incident occurred on a day where the temperature fell below 31 degrees, providing credence that a minimum of 800 ft. is more realistic.

Steven McElroy, a gas company security expert from Boston, was questioned by the community and its attorney in a manner which successfully negated the applicant’s claims of absolute safety. The line of questioning revealed that high-powered terrorist weapons are capable of penetrating the proposed outer concrete tank and that the site is quite vulnerable to attacks from the adjoining neighborhood, Metro line properties and airplanes. Their plan for protection outside the property line fence is totally dependent upon the resources of the Prince George’s County Police Department. The audience immediately chuckled at that concept, as it is common knowledge that this police department is understaffed because it continues to lose personnel to competing public and private security agencies in the region.


Community Expresses Opposition 

On December 3, residents of the Avondale community, along with residents from Mt. Rainier, Hyattsville and other surrounding towns, braved the bitter cold morning to express their opposition to the gas utility company. Janice Hall, past president of the Avondale Citizens Association, organized the event. With bullhorn in hand, Hall and fellow community leaders Amber Waller, 8th Precinct, and Mayor Malinda Miles of Mt. Rainier led a crowd of 40 community supporters  to protest the gas company’s request. “We know that LNG is the new energy technology and we welcome the technology. But the placement of such a facility in a heavily populated area is unacceptable,” said Avondale resident Janice Hall. Maryland Chapter Sierra Club Chair Betsy Johnson and Vice Chair Mike Martin were also among the protestors. Martin agreed with Janice Hall, saying, “We are not against LNG; we have a lot of concerns about the siting of such facilities not only in this area but in other densely populated areas throughout Prince George’s County.”

The Washington Gas Company appeared before the Prince George’s Zoning Hearing Examiner on December 7 as the first of a series of hearings after the Prince George’s Park and Planning Commission Board recommended that the utility company’s request for a special exception be denied. Citing neighbors’ concerns, the planning board agreed that this proposed facility would be inappropriate for the area and forwarded the recommendation to the Zoning Administrator for additional review. Over the past three months, the Zoning Administrator and community residents have heard a range of ‘experts’ in the different fields related to the LNG industry. It was revealed at the zoning hearing, Washington Gas concurrently has an application before the Public Service Commission seeking permission to construct the facility. It was also revealed that some of the key professionals that are involved in the implementation of the gas company’s LNG plans have never had, or have limited experience in, managing an LNG processing and storage facility. Jeffrey Beale, designated as the gas company’s safety expert, stands by his belief that this facility will be constructed to exceed federal safety laws.


General Assembly Getting Involved

Meanwhile, the Maryland General Assembly has its eye on this project. The gas company has dispatched five lobbyists to plead their case for the need of the Chillum Road LNG site to members of the Prince George’s and Montgomery County delegations. A proposed bi-county bill is making its way through the legislative process. PG/MC 111-06, Prince George’s County-Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission Liquefied Natural Gas Facilities – Approval Limitation was introduced by Delegate Dereck Davis. The proposed legislation prohibits the District Council in Prince George’s County from approving a special exception to construct certain liquefied natural gas storage facilities unless three-quarters of the District Council votes in approval. MC/PG 111-06 would provide Prince George’s residents the level of special exception appeals that Montgomery County residents already enjoy. In Montgomery County, a standard of review is in place for utility special exceptions that requires a supermajority vote (4 of 5) from their Board of Appeals. This legislation would provide the same standard for Prince George’s County since the District Council performs this identical function.

The Prince George’s delegation overwhelmingly approved the measure, but it is currently held up in the Montgomery County Subcommittee. This logjam is due to the fact that the M-NCPPC is a bi-county agency and any changes to its procedures must be agreed upon by both counties. Montgomery County delegates are hesitant to sign on to the proposed legislation due to Washington Gas’s argument that if the Chillum site is not selected, choosing an alternative site would cost customers $540 million. According to the Washington Gas press statement, Adrian P. Chapman, the company’s Vice President of Operations, Regulatory Affairs and Energy Acquisition, stated that building at the Chillum site would cost $110 million in construction and operating costs over 20 years. After further questioning before the Senate Finance Committee in early February, Washington Gas officials admitted that the $580 million would amount to only a small increase of $1.00 a month for each household beginning in 2009.

Prince George’s resident and co-chair of the Washington Gas Watch Alliance Stu Eisenberg says, “Montgomery County is deciding whether or not it is in the interest of its county to support Prince George’s residents’ desire to establish their own land use  standards”. Eisenberg added, “Prince Georgians deserve the same standards that Montgomery County residents enjoy.”


How You Can Help

If you would like to volunteer your services for this campaign, please call Imani Kazana at 301-799-6948, or Linda Fennell and Laurel Imlay at 301-277-7111. If you would like to contribute to the Avondale Citizens Association Legal Fund, please make your check payable to The Sierra Club Foundation, (note: LNG Legal Fund). Mail contributions to Avondale Citizens Association, P.O. Box 5891, Hyattsville, Maryland 20782.


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