Monday, October 17, 2005

How Much of Long Island Sound Does Broadwater Want Us To Hand Over?

Can you envision a situation where the Race – the eastern entrance to Long Island Sound – would have to be shut down to shipping several times a week? That’s what the Coast Guard says it might have to do when a ship carrying liquefied natural gas to the Broadwater energy factory approaches the Sound. Shut it down – no bass fishermen, no container ships, no tankers, no submarines – two or three times a week. And not just shut it down, but also impose an off-limits zone around each tanker that covers 12 ½ square miles of the Sound.

That's what I learned from the big story about Broadwater in yesterday's Hartford Courant. The story describes the situation well. The author, Jan Ellen Spiegel, quotes Lieutenant Commander Alan Blume of the U.S. Coast Guard:

"The question is how do you manage the waterway, the traffic on the waterway, so that all those uses can be realized?"

There are some who think you can't. Their poster child is the Race.

The Race is the eastern entrance to Long Island Sound, so named because of the strength of its currents. It's a 2- to 4-mile opening between Fisher's Island and Plum Island, depending on how you measure. Its most navigable portion, the north channel between Valiant Rock and Fisher's Island, is only 1½-miles wide. It is popular with fishermen. Thousands of vessels including hundreds of major commercial ships, thousands of barges and tugs, fishing vessels and an untold number of recreational boats travel through it each year.

So do submarines heading in and out of Groton. They travel in a Navy-imposed security zone - which means other vessels have to steer clear of them in the narrow Race.

At other U.S. LNG facilities, vessels have exclusionary zones around them as much as 2 miles on each side. There are many who believe that with zones that large, the Coast Guard will have no choice but to recommend the Race be closed when an LNG tanker is in it. And they believe that restriction alone will make Broadwater untenable.

All this relates to one of the biggest concerns with LNG – its flammability. It takes just the right mixture of oxygen and an ignition source to get LNG to burn, but when it goes, it goes. That's the theory, anyway. There have been no major carrier accidents in the 50 years LNG has been in use, and only four major LNG accidents, none related to the actual delivery process or regasification.

…Opponents say … the Race would have to be closed whenever a tanker goes through - an unacceptable impact on other commercial traffic. They also say that if there were to be an LNG tanker accident in the Race, the impact on critical gasoline and heating oil deliveries to New Haven, New England's second largest port, could be devastating. And they point out that the scheduling required to accommodate Race closings would constitute a security risk.

So in order for Shell and TransCanada to build a huge LNG facility in the middle of the Sound, we’d have to give away access to the Sound. And, as each tanker cruised toward the terminal, we’d also have to give away a large section of the Sound. Spiegel notes that at other LNG facilities, boats can come no closer to an LNG tanker than two miles. In other words, each tanker is surrounded by an off-limits circle with a radius of two miles. If my geometry is correct (to calculate the area of a circle, multiply pi times the radius squared), 12 ½ square miles of the Sound will be off limits to boats each time an LNG tanker enters the Sound, and that the circle will move with the tanker.

The terminal itself would require an area of at least 3 square miles to be off limits. The Race would be closed each time a ship entered. And each ship would be encircled by a 12 ½-square-mile off-limits area.

That’s a lot of public resources to have to give up.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since the bi-state region has no joint energy plan, commercial interests fill the void with their own, leaving those affected to scramble in reactionary mode. That aside, LNG tankers navigating the Race also present another hazard... closing down the Race for extended periods in the event of an accident or terrorist action. Faced with no alternative freight rail service and an already overcrowed I-95's inability to accomodate addional truck traffic, the economic impact would be devistating. Add to this, the flammability of LNG tanker's insulation, this project is inviting disaster. See

7:01 PM  

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