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Alerting the public to potential danger in Searsport

Posted Feb. 03, 2013, at 3:28 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 03, 2013, at 6:37 p.m.

In themselves, neither tanks nor propane are problematic. Tanks are needed to store fluids.

When safely managed, propane gas is no worse than any other explosive, nonrenewable fossil fuel. Liquid propane expands 27,000 percent when it becomes propane gas. Searsport’s potential 22.9 million gallons of liquid propane would change into more than 6 billion gallons of propane if it leaked outside the tank.

Catastrophic propane explosions can have many causes. Lightning strikes, maintenance errors, operational errors, equipment failures, static electricity, natural disasters, runaway reactions, vessel accidents, short circuits, terrorism, leaks and power outages are some of them. The gas flare proposed for Searsport could ignite propane or vapors from other Mack Point tanks, ships and trucks.

The San Juanico, Mexico, liquid propane tank farm, containing only 13 percent of proposed Searsport liquid propane megatank volume, consisted of 54 liquid propane storage tanks with energy equivalent to four atomic bombs. Explosions at San Juanico in 1984 consumed 2,905,892 gallons of liquid propane, killed 500 people, burned more than 5,000 people and destroyed the town. Bodies were burned beyond recognition when its flare ignited a propane vapor cloud resulting from leaks in the system caused by ineffective gas detection.

Propane gas, which burns at temperatures greater than 3,000 degrees, could liquify Mack Point tanks holding 55 million gallons of gasoline, kerosene and heating fuels whose total energy could equal 122 atomic bombs. Vapor explosions could propel flaming fuels high into the sky and land up to 50 miles away, ignite wildfires and cover water with flaming fuels if propane firestorms melt these tanks.

Like gasoline, and heating fuel, propane fires cannot be extinguished with water. If as much suppressant is used as burning propane, inert gases can extinguish propane fire by eliminating the flame’s access to oxygen. Extinguishing a 6 billion gallon propane inferno requires 6 billion gallons of inert gas, but 6 billion gallons of carbon dioxide, or other inert gases, will suffocate many neighbors.

Searsport’s previous fire chief said that propane fires can’t be extinguished. At a Waldo County emergency management meeting in May, 2011, the chief’s statement was witnessed by Attorney Kim Tucker of Islesboro, myself and many others. The chief was correct; the Searsport Fire Department could not extinguish a liquid propane fire of that size. It would have to burn itself out. It is difficult to imagine what letting a 5 billion gallon propane fire “burn out” would do to Maine.

Where can 6 billion gallons of carbon dioxide fire suppressant be put? Containment at 10 times atmospheric pressure could require 27 other megatanks.

An atomic bomb destroyed everything within one mile of Hiroshima, Japan. The proposed Searsport liquid propane megatank would have about 34 times this energy.

Benefits from the liquid propane megatank are a fraction of its hazards.

Despite public hearing requests, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maine Fuel Board and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection rubber stamped the liquid propane megatank without public hearings. Many, myself included, sent requests to the Army Corps and Coast Guard for public hearings. The denial of these hearings is a matter of public record; see http://tbnt.org.

Even though the region will be destroyed if a disaster happens there, the Searsport government is the last line of defense against this mortal threat. Maine is in a secret battle for its own survival.

The Coast Guard and Army Corps officials were gravely derelict in their duty by refusing to hear citizen input from public hearings. Permits should be rescinded. If the worst case scenario happens at Searsport, they will be accomplices in mass murder.

Randall Parr, of Appleton, earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of New Hampshire.

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