May 23, 2018
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In Searsport: thanks, but no tank

By Tom Gocze, Special to the BDN

Conoco Philips and Spectra Energy, through their subsidiary DCP Midstream, want to build a 22.7-million-gallon storage tank for liquified petroleum gas in Searsport. The tank will be located a stone’s throw from Route 1.

It will be 137 feet high and 202 feet in diameter. It will be chilled to -40 degrees Fahrenheit so the LPG can be stored as a liquid. There will be another 90,000-gallon fuel tank to run backup equipment and a 450,000-gallon water tank for on-site fires.

The facility will have a flare, which is used in refrigerating the tank. A 75-foot tall tower will flare off gas about 500 hours a year. You see such big, yellow flames at refineries all over the world. It might be a tourist attraction — kind of like Bayonne, New Jersey.

DCP modeled the noise levels conveniently at 59.6 decibels. The allowable limit is 60 decibels. The Department of Environmental Protection accepted this. One might wonder what happens if it exceeds the noise limit. Is Searsport going to shut down a $40 million project if it exceeds the limit?

Security lights will flood the area at night, in addition to the noise.

DEP’s approval, signed this week by Patricia Aho, DEP commissioner (a former oil industry lobbyist in Maine), says: “The analysis assumed that the project would not be visible to a viewer who is standing among the trees in a forested area.” What?

Until Mack Point is forested with 150-foot-tall Sequoias, the tank and flare will be visible.

DCP’s Department of Transportation permit states 55 trucks per day will leave the facility. The company is allowed a maximum of 144 trucks per day. There is a potential of 288 truck trips a day coming and going through Searsport, north and south on Route 1. Rail service will follow.

There was a LPG rail car fire in Northern California in August that emptied a town of 5,000 for several days while the car burned out. There are many bulk LPG transportation accidents every year.

The claim is made that LPG is as safe as gasoline, which is already imported to Mack Point and distributed on Maine roads. This is true, although gasoline does not have to be compressed to ship and does not have to be stored at -40 degress to be stored safely.

There are very real concerns about safety for all people living up and down the Penobscot Bay. Google BLEVE and see for yourself. This gas will be stored about a mile from a large chemical manufacturer.

There is only one other facility with a tank of this scale on the East Coast. It is in Tampa, Florida. You can see it on Google Maps by searching for “Sea 3 Tampa.”

There are no homes within a two-mile radius of that tank. In Searsport, there are homes and businesses within yards.

Isn’t a 22.7 million gallon LPG tank so near Route 1 a security risk?

DCP Midstream is a limited liability company. If a catastrophe occurs that requires major clean-up and compensation, are Conoco Philips and Spectra Energy sheltered from liability?

While DCP will be hiring temporary construction workers, there is no guarantee the tank builders will be from Maine. Ten to 14 jobs will be created to run the facility. Anglers Restaurant, the future of which is threatened by the tank project, employs 45 local people year-round, many of whom earn more than DCP gas pumping jobs.

Searsport has had a port for many years and industry is a part of its economic base. Tourism is also a large part of our economy and we need to be careful that industry does not drive away tourism.

If routes 1 and 3 become known as truck routes, it is possible that AAA will advise car traffic heading to Acadia and Down East to stay on I-95 and bypass the midcoast. Imagine the impact on local businesses if tourist traffic was permanently diverted.

No one is willing to document the impact on the existing taxpayer property values. We must protect everyone’s investments, businesses and the jobs they provide.

Let’s have great development in Searsport, Mack Point and all along the coast, but let’s make sure that we are not destroying our property values and safety for a couple jobs from importing the most expensive fossil fuel on the market.

Two public meetings are scheduled: 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2, at the Searsport town hall, and 6-8 p.m. Thursday Nov. 3 at the Belfast Free Library. There will be a presentation followed by questions and discussion.

Tom Gocze lives in Searsport.

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