Liquid propane gas and butane from Haven Energy’s proposed Port of Longview terminal would be shipped in refrigerated Panamax-sized vessels to Asia, Hawaii, Mexico and the Pacific states.
By Shari Phiel, April 20, 2014, The Daily News
Just in the way they introduced their proposed propane and butane export terminal for the Port of Longview last week, Haven Energy officials acknowledged that there are likely to be public jitters about it.
At Wednesday’s first public meeting on the $275 million project, Haven stressed the safety features of the project, the first of its kind to be built on the West Coast.
Company President Greg Bowles noted the firm plans to spend $60 million on safety measures, with $40 million of that going into two sophisticated storage tanks at the port. The silo-like structures would be tanks within tanks for storage of liquid propane and butane.
“The design is not required by any regulation. It’s something we want to do to raise the safety standards,” Bowles said at the Wednesday meeting. “We want to be the first in the United States to have this design tank. That’s $40 million that we chose to spend that we did not have to spend.”
The tank design, he said, is “for areas prone to conflict, not because of the containment benefits but because of the protection benefits. You can imagine the physical protection benefits massive amounts of concrete on the outside will give.”
Nevertheless, the project may face skepticism because of the newness of the industry to the region — and concerns about liquid petroleum safety that have risen because of recent crude oil train explosions.
“Liquid propane gas can ignite and explode. We’re concerned about safety risks,” Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, a staffer with Columbia Riverkeeper environmental group, told Haven officials at the Wednesday meeting.
“Do you realize you’re in a liquefaction zone for earthquakes?” asked Longview resident Diane Dick, referring to a process by which saturated soil turns to quicksand when shaken violently. “Is this project going to make our community less safe?”
Haven officials have said the containment tanks and terminal would be designed in accordance with the latest industry seismic requirements.
Local first responders also are watching to see how the project develops.
“This is not something we’re used to dealing with, even though propane is a common gas. Just drive around town and you see tanks everywhere,” said Longview Fire Marshal Jim Kambeitz.
Haven officials are stressing the difference between their project and liquefied natural gas. Liquid butane and propane are stored at low pressure — less than 10 pounds per square inch. By comparison, the average barbecue propane tank is pressurized at 150 psi. According to Haven, the propane will be refrigerated to approximately -44 degrees and butane will be at 30 degrees. LNG, by comparison, must be chilled hundreds of degrees below zero.
Storage, though, is only one component of safety. The bigger hazard may come from the trains that ship the product to Longview. Much like crude oil shipments, Haven’s propane and butane will be shipped in mile long, 100-car long “unit” trains. While in transport, the propane/butane is kept at somewhat higher temperatures — 20 to 90 degrees — and greater pressure, 65 to 181 psi for propane, 15 to 55 psi for butane.
Over the past year, crude oil shipments coming out of the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota have come under scrutiny following a series of train derailments in the U.S. and Canada involving DOT-111 type rail cars. While the propane and butane Haven Energy plans to ship will also come from the Bakken fields, company officials say the rail cars they will use are much safer.
“Propane rail cars are much safer than other liquid tank cars. These cars are built to extremely high standards and there’s a reason for that,” Bowles said.
The butane/propane rail cars have fire-resistant insulation covering the rail cars, puncture-resistant shields, protective housings on the top of the rail cars and special couplings that remain together in case of derailment.
Propane rail accidents are uncommon. In 1996, about 1,700 residents of a Wisconsin community were evacuated when 37 cars hauling liquefied petroleum gas derailed, and three ignited when they ruptured. This past February a train carrying liquid petroleum gas in Massachusetts derailed. No spills were reported.
“We look forward to reviewing the full safety plan,” Zimmer-Stucky told Haven officials Wednesday.
Kambeitz, the fire marshal, assured Wednesday’s audience that fire officials will be involved in the construction and planning phase of the Haven terminal to address safety and emergency response concerns.
“In any type of large-scale project like this,” he said, “there will be training so our folks will know what to expect.”