Will Latest Trump Regulatory Overhaul Ignore Catastrophic Risks from LNG Export Terminals?

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Liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals are popping up all over the United States, thanks to the long-running shale gas boom and a federal government laser-focused on achieving energy dominance, no matter the cost.

But while researchers have long warned that the materials stored at LNG export terminals pose a catastrophic risk of explosions and a potentially significant danger to the public, there’s a good chance the Trump administration’s planned overhaul of LNG safety regulations will fail to address many of those hazards.

5 New LNG Export Terminals Operational by End of 2019

Boosting LNG exports is a major component of President Trump’s “America First” energy policy.

While more than a dozen LNG import terminals were built in the United States over decades of natural gas use, the recent shale gas boom has spawned a rush to develop new LNG export facilities. According to EENews.net, the first such facility — Cheniere Energy Inc.’s Sabine Pass LNG terminal in Cameron Parish Louisiana — began commercial operations in 2016.

Five new export terminals will likely become operational by the end of the year, while six others are already fully permitted. Once they come online, all of these new facilities will remain in service for decades.

LNG Worst Case Scenario: “Cascading Plant Explosions”

LNG is produced by removing propane, ethane and other hazardous materials from natural gas, then cooling what remains to an extreme temperature of -260 degrees Fahrenheit.

While natural gas and LNG  are flammable and explosive in confined spaces, they’re not prone to exploding when released in large, open areas. But the removed materials are, and they must be stored onsite at export facilities. That creates unique safety challenges that weren’t in play when the most of the nation’s industry was oriented to LNG imports.

Jerry Havens, a professor emeritus of chemical engineering at the University of Arkansas, recently suggested the latest generation of LNG infrastructure fails to properly account for the very real risk of a catastrophe. According to the Center for Public Integrity, he’s described the worst-case scenario as “cascading explosions that could destroy a plant and possibly extend damages to the public beyond the facility boundary.”

LNG Regulator Won’t Address Hazards for at Least 2 Years

The Trump administration intends to debut its LNG safety revamp in September. Unfortunately, it appears that effort is focused mostly on streamlining current regulations and bringing them in line with other countries, rather than mitigating risks.

In fact, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which oversees LNG facilities in the United States, has suggested it will take at least another two years to fully assess an “evaluation protocol for non-LNG release hazards.”

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