A new environmental study says an explosion on a proposed floating natural gas port off the coast would not reach land, but residents question why the results are so different from an older study that concluded a 30-mile cloud of flame could reach the coast.
By Susan Reines/Special to The Malibu Times
A draft environmental impact study released Friday said an explosion on a proposed liquefied natural gas port off the coast would not affect Malibu, contrasting a 25-year-old study that said a gas explosion could cover the coast in a stretch of flames longer than Malibu’s shoreline.
Representatives of the California State Lands Commission say the risk analyses are different because the 1977 study was conducted for an on-land gas plant, while the new environmental impact statement/report concerns a port, proposed by BHP Billiton of Australia, that would float 14 miles off the coast at the Los Angeles-Ventura County line, which is about 15 miles up the coast from Malibu.
“What we did was we evaluated an absolute worst case scenario, which would be the loss of all three LNG [liquefied natural gas] tanks on the port,” Cy Oggins of the California State Lands Commission said. “We calculated 1.6 miles as the maximum radius for public safety impacts … I think people who cite the 30-mile wall of fire claim that physics haven’t changed, and of course we claim the same thing-physics haven’t changed-we’re just using a methodology specific to this project.”
However, residents said the risk is unclear, and they are still uncomfortable with the proposed Cabrillo Port receiving chilled natural gas so close to home.
Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern said the new study did not temper his resistance to the two proposed natural gas ports in nearby waters, the Cabrillo Port and the Crystal Energy Plant, for which an EIR has not yet been conducted. “That EIR does zero for me,” Stern said of the new Cabrillo Port study. “I feel no better about it. What would do something for me would be not to build it.”
Stern said the only real way to mitigate disaster would be to stop the project altogether. “I think it’s outrageous that they’re trying this new technology that, to my knowledge, has never been proven,” he said. “And I understand this EIR comes out and says well, it’s not a problem, but if it blows up, the people who wrote the EIR are going to be long gone. I don’t understand why they would take that risk, except for profit.”
The City Council approved a resolution strongly opposing both the Cabrillo Port and the Crystal Energy Plant in May 2004, and Stern said he didn’t know why the city wouldn’t consider joining with other cities to file a lawsuit or lobby the state government.
City Attorney Christi Hogin said the city has no authority as a government body to stop the project, though it could lobby against it like any concerned individual or group.
“I think the city’s role is primarily like any interested party, giving its input,” she said. “We don’t have any authority.”
Oggins said the draft report was written by independent third party consultants, but some in Malibu question whether business interests might have had influence.
“I think it appears to show an inclination to approve it,” local activist Anne Hoffman said. “I mean, if developers got this kind of green flag to just say that there would be a very low chance of a major accident, that just conflicts with the expert and the public testimony.”
Hoffman noted, though, that she had not had time to study the lengthy report in depth.
” I’m still processing it,” she said. “It’s a 1,200 page report, so I’m not giving you the final word.”
The Cabrillo Port would receive natural gas from Australian tankers that carry the fuel in compressed liquid form. The gas would be vaporized and pumped through a network of pipes.
While the report does say new technology would be used to mitigate spills and explosions, it classifies the “potential release of LNG due to high energy marine collision or intentional attack” as Class I -the most severe -even after mitigation.
Governor Arnold Schwarze-
negger has expressed support for LNG projects, saying natural gas could feed California’s energy needs and help wean the state from oil and coal. Environmental groups have split, some emphasizing that natural gas is cleaner burning than coal and oil, but others saying the risks of spills and explosions are too severe.
Craig Shuman, staff scientist at local environmental nonprofit Heal the Bay, said the organization had not yet taken a stand on the new study because he had not finished reviewing it.
“If, when I review it, I see something that they need to be doing differently, we’ll submit comments on the draft EIR,” Shuman said, noting that project proponents have a legal obligation to respond to comments in the final EIR.
“When it comes to projects, that’s where Heal the Bay is very effective, in that we’ll write very strong comment letters and then the promoters of the project will have to go back and change their project,” Shuman said.