Former Gibsons firefighter warns about LNG tankers in Howe Sound

By: Margot Grant

“About 35 years ago, there was a fire underneath a propane tank in Upper Gibsons, near Kenmac. A firefighter did something incredibly brave. While the other firemen covered him with water from their hoses, he crawled on his belly to the tank and turned the valve off. Had he not done that, it would have exploded and a big part of Upper Gibsons would have been severely damaged. This tank was only 12 to 14 ft. high and about 4 ft. across. Now imagine a 1000 ft. LNG tanker goes by the Sunshine Coast, with the explosive power of 70 Hiroshima bombs.”

 Local resident Wayne Taylor was a firefighter in Gibsons from 1984 until 1996. He is not a protester, he says, but from his knowledge of gas fires, he is “very, very concerned” about the idea of LNG tankers in Howe Sound.

Woodfibre LNG has applied to build an Liquefied Natural Gas plant in Howe Sound near Squamish. According to the company, LNG tankers would travel through Howe Sound 80 times per year. Opponents claim the Woodfibre LNG production could be six times greater.

As a former firefighter, Taylor is concerned about BLEVE, Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapour Explosion. “In case of a fire near an LNG tank, the gas starts to boil. The vapours expand, the tank explodes, and then you have a major situation.

“LNG is heavier than air. It forms a very dangerous, low cloud. A spark, and it ignites. This does not cause one big explosion, but a fireball which keeps on going.

“The proponents of LNG tankers in Howe Sound keep saying they are perfectly safe, but you only need one incident,” he said. “There are up to 22 barges a day in Collingwood Channel. They can’t stop easily. Freighters travel to and from the paper mill. And there can be up to four ferries at one time in Queen Charlotte Channel near Bowen Island.

“Imagine, one unforeseen collision, and an explosive power of 70 Hiroshima bombs. . . Gibsons would be gone. There would even be damage in Vancouver, and there are mountains between Howe Sound and the city.

“My grandparents settled on the Coast, and my grandchildren live here. Again, I am not a protester, but I hope people will realize the danger of these tankers,” Taylor said.

In another development, Gordon Wilson, the LNG - Buy BC Advocate, was in Comox last week to tell local politicians and businessmen about the benefits of the B.C. government’s LNG strategy.

Wilson explained there was nothing to fear from transporting LNG in tankers. Should a leak occur, he said, the natural gas would simply evaporate in the atmosphere where it would be broken down into carbon dioxide and water.

That is unscientific, untrue and misleading, Robert Godfrey, an environmental consultant from Eastport, Maine immediately said. He closely monitors all LNG projects in North America.

When LNG is released from its container, it becomes a fatal burn hazard. Both the LNG liquid and vapor near the leak can cause death. Additionally, the vapor can result in asphyxiation (suffocation) within the dense vapor cloud, he wrote in the comments section of the Comox Valley Echo.

If the vapor should catch fire, the thermal radiation from the resulting fireball, at a distance of 1,600 meters, can burn unprotected skin with second-degree burns within 30 seconds. Closer distances would produce more serious burns in less time. Would a child know how to keep from getting burned in such a situation? Would a kayaker be able to get away fast enough? he asked in the Comox Valley Echo.

LNG vapor is initially 1.5 times the weight of air; thus, the resulting vapor cloud immediately presents a flammable edge, and hugs the ground until warming up to about 100 C. Until then, the vapor drifts along the surface with the breeze, and can remain low and flammable at a distance of 3,500 meters. Vapors that get trapped beneath a school bus, between boats, under a pier, or in a building can result in a confined vapor explosion, Godfrey said.

Finally, LNG vapor (methane) does not simply break down into carbon dioxide and water, like Wilson claims—unless it immediately catches fire and burns, or until eight years have passed and the gas reaches the troposhphere.

Methane is twenty times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and once released, remains in the atmosphere around eight years. Not until after that time does methane in the troposphere react, converting to carbon dioxide and water, Godfrey pointed out.