The Big Energy Export Train aimed at Pacific Northwest deep-water harbors is looking to add a new cargo: liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), also known as propane and butane.
The new export LPG cargo would be added to a menu that includes coal from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana; crude oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota; and liquefied natural gas (LNG) from . . . well, you get the idea.
Petrogas, a Calgary-based energy company, plans to upgrade a small export terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County, near a proposed coal-export terminal and two oil refineries. The facility has had several owners since 1976 and has exported a small amount of LPG to Ecuador and Asia.
A Texas energy company, Sage Midstream, has announced plans for a new LPG export terminal at Longview; the site is near a proposed coal-export terminal, Millennium Bulk Products.
At least two proposals for liquefied natural gas terminals are on the table in Oregon: a longstanding one at Astoria near the mouth of the Columbia and a newer one at Coos Bay on the southern Oregon Coast. The Coos Bay project would include a 232-mile-long pipeline from south-central Oregon.
A little technical explanation: Natural gas is drilled from deep underground rock formations and liquefied natural gas is natural gas that has been converted to liquefied form for ease of transportation or storage; liquefied petroleum gas is largely captured from the waste of petroleum refineries (flaring). Natural gas is composed of methane and ethane, LPG from propane and butane. Both are explosive if exposed to fire or ignition.
Petrogas included few details in its Cherry Point announcement, and officials declined our request for an interview. But officials of Sage’s subsidiary, Haven Energy, were quick to address rail-transportation safety issues. Haven President Greg Bowles told the Longview Daily News that butane and propane would be shipped in the modern DOT-112 rail tank cars, which are built to a higher standard than the DOT-111 cars used to ship crude oil.
The most serious LPG accident in recent years killed 17 people in Viareggio on the Tuscan Riviera in Italy in 2009. The derailment of a 14-car LPG train caused an explosion and also forced the evacuation of 1,000 people, the New York Times reported. In 2013, a derailment in Alberta caused an explosion and fire but no injuries, Reuters reported; one LPG car exploded and three others caught fire.
Industry sources defend the safety of LPG, and stress training to prevent accidents in transportation or use. ProActive Gas Safety, a consulting firm, termed the Italy explosion “extremely rare.” The Federal Railroad Administration in 2012 issued new safety rules for LPG. The proposed LPG terminals are relatively small compared to several crude-oil terminals proposed in the Northwest; at most it appears that a train or two per day (full and then empty for returning) would serve each terminal.
The $275 million Longview facility promises up to 125 permanent jobs and many more construction jobs; it would open in 2016. The key agency is likely to be the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), which reviews large energy projects. The agency is now reviewing the Vancouver crude-oil terminal and beginning an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) similar to those being conducted by state, federal and local agencies for the coal-terminal proposals. Haven has been instructed to check with EFSEC, but the agency has yet to receive an inquiry, Manager Stephen Posner told Crosscut. Until he receives an inquiry he cannot determine if the project meets the criteria for EFSEC review. The little-known agency will depend heavily on other agencies to meet the crush of energy-export proposals, but Posner said he feels it can handle the load.
EFSEC is currently reviewing a large crude oil-export terminal at Vancouver on the Columbia River; an international consulting firm with office in Seattle and Portland, Cardno Etrix, will lead the environmental review for EFSEC. Ultimately, recommendations from the agency go to Gov. Jay Inslee for a final decision.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!