Despite industry claims, liquid propane gas is dangerous: In the last two months alone seven explosions of tanks, pipelines and trucks have merited widespread media attention.
As is characteristic of these horrific accidents involving LPG, transportation routes were blocked for hours, many residents were evacuated, homes and family businesses were destroyed, and people were injured and killed in communities much like ours. These recent disasters happened in Maine — in York on Dec. 27 — Virginia, West Virginia, New York, Russia and twice in Georgia. The Russian tanker accident was dramatically captured on video.
In another tragedy in November, at least five sailors from India were fatally asphyxiated due to leaking poisonous gas while trying to fix a damaged pipeline aboard a LPG tanker similar to those that would carry the volatile fuel up and down our Penobscot Bay.
DCP Midstream, the Colorado-based company that seeks to build the largest LPG marine terminal and storage tank on the East Coast in Searsport, has a terrible, well-documented and reported compliance record. Cursory research reveals that this company paid more than $60 million to settle 4,777 air quality permit violations in three plants over five years in New Mexico alone. The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cite similar infractions principally due to leaks of methane and propane gas. In many instances, rather than responding to notices of violation, DCP simply paid the fine.
Despite DCP Midstream’s repeated assertions of having a safe product — during the first round of Searsport Planning Board public hearings in November 2012 — its 2011 annual report runs counter to this:
The report states: “Our business involves many hazards and operational risks, some of which may not be fully covered by insurance. Our operations, and the operations of third parties are subject to many hazards inherent in the gathering, compressing, treating, processing, storage and transporting of natural gas, propane and NGLs, including: … personal injury and/or loss of life, severe damage to and destruction of property and equipment and pollution or other environmental damage … leaks” and “fires and explosions.”
To manage these extremely dangerous hazards, DCP Midstream openly states in its permit applications it will rely on our small taxpayer-funded fire departments to provide mutual aid in the event of a tragedy. Adding insult to injury, the company’s annual report also openly admits, “In some instances, certain insurance could become unavailable or available only for reduced amounts of coverage, or may become prohibitively expensive, and we may elect not to carry policy.”
There are glaring contradictions between three statements made on one page of the company’s shareholder report – that they may not be or are “not fully insured” or “not fully covered by insurance” – and the “assurances” given by Jeff Hurteau, one of DCP’s top executives, at the hearings who stated, “It is our absolute intent to provide the support necessary for DCP Searsport to be successful, to handle anything that comes up that could go wrong. It’s a normal course for DCP Midstream Partners in how it operates.” Further, different companies, presumably also limited liability companies, will operate and transport the LPG in tanker trucks from the terminal. We do not know who these companies are or what type of insurance or liability they would have in the case of any accident.
The danger of liquid propane gas combined with the safety, compliance and transparency records of DCP Midstream add up to an explosive combination for Searsport and our closely knit region. In Tampa, where the largest tank in the United States is located, the Coast Guard required a two-mile exclusion zone surrounding the tank, limiting the human exposure within the zone. There is no such exclusion zone required for the 22.7 million-gallon megatank in Searsport. On the contrary, within half a mile of its anticipated site and needed transportation routes, lives the heart of our communities: municipal services, schools, many homes, businesses, parks, playgrounds, drinking water facilities and even the very fire departments on which DCP Midstream says it will need to depend.
It is inconceivable that the people of Searsport and the surrounding region would consider permitting such an explosive combination in our beautiful region of Maine. Hopefully all our midcoast officials will attend the next round of Searsport Planning Board hearings beginning Jan. 17 to ensure the protection of the health and welfare of our communities and our bay.
Ridgely Fuller is a resident of Belfast.