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  • Writer's pictureBrian Keeler

Unsafe at Any Speed- LNG on roads and rails

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

Unsafe at Any Speed- LNG Transport- A Tale of Two Towns in PA -

By Brian Keeler

US Route 6 depicted in this oil painting by Brian Keeler. This highway is the main road for the delivery of LNG in the norhtern tier of Pennsylvania. All the towns are vulnerable to the extreme danger of accident and explosions of the tanker trucks or trains that run parallel to US route 6.

“Unsafe at Any Speed” is of course the title of the 1965 book by consumer advocate Ralph Nader to address design deficiencies in American automobiles. We now regard these cars of the 1960’s mostly for their uniqueness of design and for their quirky and stylized appearance. But Nader’s urge to have bumpers that actually work and seatbelts required on all cars, seems completely understandable. Today we may wish that this kind of advocacy could be applied much more stringently. Instead, we see the mission of the Trump administration to deregulate environmental protections along with safety and health regulations as a giant step backwards. The subtitle of this essay, "The Tale of Two Towns"- is in reference to Tunkhannock, PA, which will acquiesce to the gas companies and Clarks Summit, PA, just down US Route 6 aways, which has a borough council that stands up for the safety of their residents.

This claim, of the lack of safety at any speed could appropriately be applied with more urgency to the transport of LNG out of Wyalusing, PA to the port across the Delaware River from Philadelphia at Gibbstown, NJ. In fact, LNG transport is much worse, as the tankers cannot even remain idle once loaded. At least the Chevy Corvairs that Nader was concerned about could sit in your driveway without too much worry. And there is good reason why trains transporting this stuff are referred to as "train bombs." One estimate is that each train coming out of Wyalusing will contain the equivalent of four Hiroshima nuclear bombs, another estimate put the explosive potential closer to 50 nuclear bombs for every tanker.

Fires engulf homes in Cleveland, Ohio, during a liquefied natural gas disaster in 1944. How Dangerous is it to ship LNG today? The liquefied natural gas from just one rail tank car — without even considering a whole train — could be enough to destroy a city. It would only take 22 tank cars to hold the equivalent energy of the Hiroshima bomb. A train of 110 tank cars filled with liquefied natural gas would have five times the energy of the Hiroshima bomb. In the event of any loss of containment, liquefied natural gas rapidly expands by six hundred times its volume to become a highly flammable gas — and can turn into a “bomb train.”

An LNG Tanker- unsafe at any speed! They can't remain idle either due to the nature of cryogenically compressed natural gas, which must maintain a minus 260 degree farenheit temperature. If the rail lines are comprimised by an accident, say a landslide- a catastrophic sequence starts.

The headline on the front page of the Rocket-Courier, Wyalusing’s weekly newspaper, stating that the Wyoming County Commissioners refused to review information about the safety issues related to LNG transport and fracking is an example of unbelievable dereliction of duty and gross negligence, which in effect is endangering the people of Tunkhannock and all of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. We should remind these commissioners that they are there to serve the interest of their constituents, which includes taking the necessary actions to assure the safety of the residents. Serving the safety concerns regarding the shipment of LNG could equally apply to the Township Supervisors in Wyalusing and other elected officials. The Bradford County Commissioners are equally as complicit in abetting the dangers of fracking and LNG.

By contrast to the commissioners in Tunkhannock- the borough council in Clarks Summit, PA has taken a proactive and beneficial action. They just passed a resolution to prohibit the transport of LNG through their community. In addition they voted to cast a nay vote on the approval of the shipping dock in Gibbstown, NJ. Hopefully their courage will inspire other municipalities to follow suit.

The Wyoming County Commissioners response as reported in the press was astounding for its lack of concern for the welfare of the people of that area but also for how the simple act of reading a report was regarded. The commissioners seem to think that becoming informed of some facts contrary to the spin of the fracking companies is either a (with them or against them) type of decision. This attitude shows how much politicians in Pennsylvania have become toadies and lackeys for the gas companies. Commissioner Rick Wilbur may get more than he wants however, as he stated that “ There’s no way we’re going to jump on that (opposition effort). Over my dead body would I jump on that.” Well when his corpse is dug from the rubble in Tunkhannock along with thousands of others, after an LNG train bomb explodes, some may wonder about the intelligence of such bombast.

The aftermath of the crude-by-rail disaster in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013. AUG. 18, 2020. LNG by contrast much more volatile and dangerous than crude oil.

Furthermore, if such a catastrophe does occur, many will wonder how such a blunderous policy of sycophancy could have been enacted and condoned in Pennsylvania. And the chances of such a mishap seem almost to guarantee an accident. Just look at the enormous explosive potential combined with the frequency of shipments- 12,000 trucks per week or trains with over 100 cars each, each carrying the equivalent of several nuclear bombs- and passing through our towns every day and all year long.

We could also make a note of a similar industrial disaster not far from Tunkhannock, when the Susquehanna River bed was punctured from below (The Knox Mine Disaster) by coal mining in 1959. This is another example of insufficient safeguards and apathy by government and lack of sufficient enforcement of regulations. Sound familiar? Actually it is probably worse today in northern Pennsylvania as the degree of rubberstamping the wishes of the fracking companies is much more pervasive than with the coal industry of the 1950’s. We don’t have to worry about deregulation in Pennsylvania today because there are few regulations to protect us in the first place. Actually, how does a community adequately prepare for an LNG explosion? The answer; there’s not really much that can be done in the face of a such a horrendous conflagration. The most effective remedy is to complain and stop these abominations before they’re in place.

This could be a scenario for Tunkhannock, PA if the Wyoming County Commissioners default on safety is to be heeded. A previous LNG debacle is shown here in Ohio as county Engineering employees search through the wreckage of the East Ohio Gas Co. explosion, 1944. Cleveland Press Collection, CSU Archiv

There is a long list of reasons to be concerned over abuses of environmental, historical and safety issues regarding the LNG in Wyalusing but the transport of this highly volatile product has now been revealed to be so extremely dangerous, as to be more or less off the scale of imagination. For example, if New Fortress Energy plans to continue their construction near Wyalusing, there would be on average 1,150 tanker trucks of LNG heading out of the plant every day or trains with over 100 tanker cars departing each day. The possibility of accidents with disastrous consequences are considerable and are putting populations along 200 mile course at risk of annihilation.

We may consider ourselves lucky if only Tunkhannock or Wilkes-Barre is obliterated by an LNG shipment accident. If the entire Philadelphia metropolitan area is vaporized, then we’ll begin to know the full extent of this debacle. We are talking about millions of lives being lost because of the short sited actions (or inactions) of township supervisors and county commissioners. Just think of photos of Nagasaki or Hiroshima after the nuclear bombs were dropped at the end of World War II and it will bring home the magnitude of a disaster that is imminent with LNG shipping. Think it can’t happen? Just look back a few years ago when a train of crude oil exploded in Quebec leveling blocks and killing dozens. Crude oil is of course only a fraction as dangerous as LNG.

So hopefully other municipalities along the supply chain routes will take the time to become acquainted with the facts that our group, Protect Northern PA has compiled. Our web site is brimming to overflowing with facts about the dangers of fracking along with the production and shipment of LNG. I encourage everyone to peruse the web site.

There is however, some very positive news from some other quarters- and that is the supply line of LNG to their hoped-for markets has been delivered a major setback. We Americans cannot take credit for this, as it is the result of Ireland banning fracking and prohibiting the import of US fracked gas and LNG. Their spokesman, John McEligott of Shannon, Ireland who has been heading up the efforts there in the Emerald Island was recently interviewed by Tracy Carluccio of Delaware River Keeper. John is an articulate and eloquent speaker who conveys the Irish efforts with a disarming matter-of-factness. I was enthralled and inspired by his character, conviction and humbleness. So if you’re interested to see how a country can take positive steps to protect their fragile ecosystems and safety of their people, please check out this video interview. As John says rather wryly, no county is an Island today (with a chuckle) as Ireland is of course and actual Island, but we are all connected in many ways.

(Click on the link below- to access the wonderful interview with John McElligott)

The aftermath of the crude-by-rail disaster in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013. The explosion killed 47 people.

An aerial view (photo by Brook Lenker of Frack Tracker) of the LNG plant near Wyalusing, PA- An abomination- 265 acre site of the LNG construction just east of Wyalusing, PA. This was once a beautiful and pristine river frontage along the Susquehanna. The history of the area has been paved under too, as the original Moravian village of Friedenshutten was located here. Now this behemoth is a disaster waiting to happen- not only at the site, but all along the 200 mile delivery course on the way to Gibbstown, NJ- near Philly. Then the all the towns allong the Delware bay are at risk- as these tankers would course out to the Atlantic- if New Fortress is allowed to prevail.

Unsafe at Any Speed ? The Chevy Corvair depicted here in a pastel as it slowly rusts on Oak Hill outside of Wyalusing- this work by Brian Keeler. The Corvair of the early 1960's was probably much safer even with its design flaws than the LNG shipments on rail or by truck.

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