Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
These diaries are much appreciated, Jerome.

A couple of thoughts from the non-technical viewpoint:

Unconventional oil was supposed to be The Next Big Thing in the '70s but ran into market realities. I don't see that changing unless or until oil gets over $100/bbl.

LNG is also supposed to be wonderful, and indeed it is a good fuel, clean and efficient. It suffers from being Geographically Undesirable. It's tricky to transport, and dangerous.

Where I live, on the coast of Maine, there's been a concerted effort for a while now to get the OK to build an LNG terminal. Promises of jobs, jobs, the golden grail. Such talk carefully omits the information that only low-level local jobs will be created, and the few professional ones will be filled by imported talent.

So far, it's been rejected by at least three cities/towns that I recall (start at the southern coast of the state and work your way north and east on the map). Now, it's under intense discussion in Eastport, where the Passamoquoddy tribe has been enticed with promises of economic benefits.

However. If this terminal is built anywhere along this coast, which relies for income on various forms of deep-sea fishing and summer boating, certain things will happen: Under rules from the unfortunately named Department of Homeland Security, each time an LNG tanker comes in, all marine traffic in the area will cease. The harbor is closed. Period. And remains that way until the tanker unloads, reloads (if it does), and has cleared port again to open sea. 48 hours minimum.

Plus, the slightest accident could cause an explosion that would demolish a huge section of heavily populated coastline. Water pollution? How about flushing the bilges? And the list goes on.

Not surprisingly, there's a huge NIMBY (not in my backyard) reaction. Particularly since the LNG is intended for other markets than local.

The restrictions apply to any potential LNG port. Increased LNG shipments into a more populous area (Baltimore, say, or Boston, even Jacksonville) would cause huge disruptions.

So the question becomes one of how to get the stuff here. It's probably going to be an urgent question fairly soon, because a huge number of very large houses being built in the southern U.S. are being heated and cooled with natural gas.

Sorry for the length of this, but it's an issue that's been brewing for a while with very little public recognition.

by Mnemosyne on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 10:17:23 AM EST
are THE big thing in the energy world (and in my world as well, because LNG is one sector of the industry that uses the most external finance). There are more than 30 or 40 proposed locations for import terminals, and several of these are likely to be built, simply because there will otherwise be a shortage of natural gas in North America. (One solution is to build the terminals in Mxico or the Caribean and pipe the gas from there)

It should be noted that LNG (liquid natural gas) has physical properties that make it impossible to blow up or burn, so it's really stupid scaremongering to worry about these boats. Onshore, the terminals are really simple things (basically, you warm up the very cold liquid gas by bathing it in water), and the end product, natural gas, is indeed flammable and explosive, but not more so than in the other hundreds of industrial plants that use it. So basic safety measures as are already used elsewhere should be more than enough. The LNG industry has an exceptional security record in the past 40 years.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 01:14:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jerome has a valid point...

Have you ever filled a propane tank? Or refilled a smaller portable tank from a propane tank? You get frost & ice all over everything. That is similar to what would happen with an LNG leak.

That is because when you transfer propane you are in effect 'boiling' the liquid in the larger tank to generate the gas pressure to fill smaller tank.  Same thing happens if you use those backpack camp stoves (not the liquid fuel but canned gas)... you get frost all over... especially as it funs out.

That frost is the result of moisture in the air condensing & freezing on the outside of the tank to provide the 'heat' to boil the propane, butane, whatever inside the tank. The 'latent heat' of the water vapor condensing & then freezing plus the temperature drop is transfered to the propane/butane/whatever to 'boil it'... overcoming the latent heat of the hydrocarbon so it turns from a liquid into a gas... basic heat transfer & thermodynamics problem.

The same thing would happen with LNG... to get a whole tanker to vaporize to explode would not only take a leak but also a whole lot of heat (equivalent to the latent heat of natural gas times the mass of the LNG)... A LOT. You spring a big leak in one of those tanks... and some LNG will vaporize immediately and will escape but as it does the temperature of the LNG remaining liquid will plunge... you will turn that tank into an iceberg pretty fast... and the resistance to heat transfer through the ice will dramticly slow the future release. It could still be a huge problem but it would not make a very good bomb.

Another reason for this is that for gases to be 'explosive' requires that the mixture be right... not too much gas in the mixture and not too little... but just right within some error bars which depends on the specific gases and pressures and such.

This is why those fuel air bombs are so tricky... they have to first disperse the combustibles out a long way over the target... mix them evenly and in the right concentrations... then ignite. Not easy to do even when the things are designed to do it... very difficult to do 'by accident'.

I'm not saying LNG is 100% safe or that something awful could never happen... just that it isn't more dangerous than other fuels and in some respects less so.

Hope this helps.

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." - Peter Steiner

by dryfly (jjwhodat at hotmail dot com) on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 03:12:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Boiling liquid, expanding vapor explosions.

You might want to bone up on these things before assuming LNG ships are safe because you need some energy to vaporize the liquid.

Try Flixborough as a Google search if you want some idea of how bad one of these unconfined vapor cloud explosions can be.  I worked around refineries some.  People were very aware of how careful you had to be around propane/butane facilities.

If you had a shipping accident that split open an LNG ship you could put a lot of explosive material out pretty quickly.    Plenty of heat in the ocean to vaporize it too.

LNG is heavier than air and will form a low lying cloud near the surface.  Find an ignition source and away you go.

Do I think LNG terminals are too risky?  No.  But this assesment plays down the risks too much IMHO.

by HiD on Sat Jun 25th, 2005 at 07:43:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't say I thought it was 100% safe - nothing is. But the hype you read is that LNG are the equivalent to 'floating nuclear bombs'... ready to take out a city like Long Beach or LA. Reality is they are probably safer than tankers full of gasoline - something we will need to think about should we start importing a lot more 'finished distillates' and less crude.

And I worked in the chem business too... ran distillation columns in alcohol processing plants 'splitting the azeotrope'... we had alcohol, benzene, gasoline and natural gas (boilers)... all of them like potential bombs about to go off all the time. LNG is a risk but not worse than others - probably less so due to the nature of the liquid gas and the way they transport it.

As long as the LNG is liquid - it is fairly safe. Once it goes gaseous then it isn't... and it needs a lot of heat to do that. But 'ya' if a whole tanker split open in a harbor and the liquid boiled out over the rapidly freezing ocean ... ya that would be bad. Eventually it would evaporate and disperse & dilute to a concentration able to support an explosion...  somewhere if not immediately at the accident site. On the other hand it is possible it might disperse too quickly to explode. The concentrations need to be right... enough gas, enough air... and of course the ignition source... It is far more likely to happen in a confined space like a building or city block then out on the ocean, in the open, wind rain and all.

But it would be just as bad if a tanker of distillate spilled open in the same heavily populated harbor... and spread out over the surface of the water, evaporating then if conditions get right BOOM...

The whole point is it isn't easy to make these things happen... make all the factors work in concert. Nd these LNG tankers aren't one big open cargo ship... they are a little more complex then the Exxon Valdez. They have many smaller high pressure tanks hooked up together but isolated from each other. They all aren't going to just 'split open'...  

I think there is plenty to worry about - but this isn't even close to the top of my list.

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." - Peter Steiner

by dryfly (jjwhodat at hotmail dot com) on Sat Jun 25th, 2005 at 09:05:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
nuclear bomb, no.  Seriously worse than gasoline, yes.  Mogas just isn't as volatile as LNG.  You don't get the big vapor cloud forming.  Typically mogas has a boiling range of 100F to 430 F.  You can get it to boil off, but over time rather than a rapid, BLEVEE situation. Otherwise we'd have pressurized mogas tanks in our cars.    Mogas tends to burn, LNG to go BANG.

Distillate -- no worries at all.  It vaporizes, but slowly.  Great for avoiding killing aquatic life, but little risk of an explosion.

I agree with you.  It's pretty hard to actually fuck up enough to cause the worst case scenario.  Unfortunatly, we humans seem to always find a way to do just that.  I wouldn't want to live 1000 yards from an LNG facility and wouldn't want to ask anyone else to do so either.  Whereever we put them, and we do need them, we need to maximize the distance to people.  Fear no, caution yes.

The Exxon Valdez also had many compartments.  All oil tankers do.  But like the Titanic, when a tanker hits a rock or another ship rams you at an angle, you tend to slide along it rupturing a number of tanks.  The product tankers I used to charter would hold 250 MB of liquid in usually 15-25 individual tanks.  Crude tankers not all that different in design.  You need a bunch of tanks for stability and to prevent the liquid from sloshing around in heavy seas.

by HiD on Sun Jun 26th, 2005 at 01:28:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The 1000 yds idea is a good one... but I wouldn't want to be 1000 yds from any facility including the plant I used to run... we had to 'evacuate' a couple thousand residents at least twice while I worked there... people in a large mobile home park down the street and a neighborhood just north. No incident but hairy.

Irony is many of the workers lived in those communities because of the convenience & low cost... saved money than bought nicer homes in a better part of the city much farther away.

And you remind me of another point - I do not believe the 'big release' will be the problem though that is what everyone is hyping ... my guess is it is going to be the same as it is with all natural gas processing - the maintenance of seals & valves. It will be the little leaks that will kill. And it will probably happen long after the product has been unloaded & revaporized.

And while maybe I underestimated the risk of LNG... I think maybe you underestimate the risk of the lighter distillates & gasoline... again depending on where it happens and how much. Out in open water - not a big deal... disperse & not explode even if lit up.

But in a harbor or river with dockage and confined pockets & jetties - very big deal. I've read of accidents on the Illinois River where relatively small amounts of gasoline spilled (1000s of gallons not whole tankers) and that still had the response teams paranoid as hell and evacuating as the spill worked down stream until it dispersed...

Even though the cloud isn't as large as LNG... the distillate liquid flows out over the surface, evaporating slowly... under bridges & culverts it traps and if the mixture is right... it blows as badly as any combustible gas. The thing that is especially dangerous is the fact the ignition source can be hundreds of yards away and ignite a small quantity of the liquid... run along the surface of the water like a fuse and then only  'blow' the trapped pockets under bridges, docks, etc. like isolated bombs.

When I heard the Saudis were planning on a massive increase in refining capacity and plan to sell us 'finished' product as opposed to crude... my first thought was... I wonder where they plan to unload it.  It better be well offshore.

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." - Peter Steiner

by dryfly (jjwhodat at hotmail dot com) on Sun Jun 26th, 2005 at 08:51:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
for the enlightening discussion.

It does seem to make sense to put big plants that manipulate vast volumes of flammable or explosive materials away from inhabited areas...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Jun 26th, 2005 at 10:10:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
can we have a quick discussion by Those Who Know, of the relationship between LNG, LPG, propane, and other petro gas nomenclature?  how many gaseous byproducts of petro distillation or extraction are compressed and used in liquid form?  the "flows like a liquid and can go Bang" risks being discussed here sound a lot like propane.

also, has anyone a reading on the amount of energy used to compress these gases into their liquid state for storage and transport?  how many BTU does it take to compress 1000 BTU of any of these liquid gases into their commercially usable form?  just curious about the EROEI as usual...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Jun 26th, 2005 at 12:59:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]


as to the EROEI, I'd say from rough memory that you get on the other side (i.e. after liquifeaction, transport and regasification) 90%+ of the natural gas you put in, so it's not too bad as a transport chain.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Jun 26th, 2005 at 03:06:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the US East coast already has enormous mogas imports via tanker.  Mogas has been moving into NY on 60-80 KT ships (500K+ bbls) from Mobil Yanbu (red sea side of Saudi) for 10 yrs+.  Not to mention Venz, brazil, Norway, and the rest of Europe.  

You might want to check out how large mogas imports already are.  And I'd guess 90% of it goes to the USAC from Virginia north.  Rest to USWC in summer.

by HiD on Mon Jun 27th, 2005 at 02:26:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The predictive power of these futurist scenarios seems weak to me in at least one aspect.  The "great car culture" of which Maggie Thatcher was so fond is ultimately a self-defeating technology:  except in rural regions of low-density population, when the ratio of cars to eligible drivers gets anywhere close to 1:1 (i.e. universal motorist status), the result is a vast inefficiency of transport with millions of person-hours and billions of dollars and I don't know how many BTUs of energy wasted annually on gridlock, car crashes and attendant injury and mortality, etc.

The national and provincial economy gets locked into an endless tailspin of "predict and provide" construction of highways, freeways, expressways, parking structures, etc -- all heavily subsidised by the tax payer and diverting funds from other social services (cf Hart and Spivak, The Elephant in the Bedroom, on the distorting effects of the subsidised private-auto culture on US municipalities and their tax revenues and outlays).  The automobile also tends to displace more efficient people-movers (already Beijing officialdom is talking about banning cyclists from major streets -- banning bikes, in China!), reducing the mobility options of the less affluent and creating an overclass/underclass transport hierarchy.  (Auto-induced gridlock paralyses bus and taxi services as well, etc.)   There's also a trend towards decay and underfunding of existing public transport, curtailment of services, etc. as car ownership decreases ridership, leaving those who cannot afford car ownership stranded.  The end result is, in much of the US, "mandatory car ownership" as people of limited means find it impossible to get to their jobs without an automobile -- even if the expenses of owning and operating one eat a disproportionate amount of their take home pay (it has been estimated at 20 percent for some income levels).

Dedication of urban surface area to automobile transport forces light and heavy rail underground -- another form of displacement -- vastly increasing construction costs for new rail spurs and warping the CBA for such projects. And we haven't even started talking about air quality, though with notoriously poor air quality in many third world urban areas, the issue would be further incremental degradation rather than a transition from clean to dirty air.

Less obvious, more distant side effects include the annexation of lower-cost rural land into luxury exurbs as the affluent classes use their automobiles to flee urban areas:  the resulting lengthy commutes are insanely energy-inefficient, but there are worse knock-on effects.  These include the accelerated paving-over of productive farmland, converted into carburbs -- loss of essential agricultural capacity;  the decimation of wildlife (roadkill is the leading cause of mortality for many feral species in the US) and the disruption of wildlife migration corridors -- loss of biodiversity and prey/predator balance;  the "affordability" of large sprawling residences (due to remote greenfields development) which then require enormous amounts of energy to heat in winter -- increased fossil fuel dependency;  and the coring-out and decay of what were once thriving cities.  These trends are self-reinforcing:  the decay of cities increases the motivation for urban flight, the number of people commuting enormous distances tends to grow, and the distances themselves tend to grow.  

The shopping patterns of the carburb economy for example are weirdly inverted from a rational/efficient model:  instead of a few heavy goods vehicles carrying merchandise to shops and markets in a dense urban core where individual shoppers make fuel-efficient pedestrian, bike, or PT trips to purchase, thousands of consumers drive private "heavy goods vehicles" long distances to load them up with goods and return to widely dispersed homes.  The delivery activity has been decentralised and displaced onto the consumer, considerably increasing the fuel consumption.  Fuel economy advances made in the US in the 70's were almost immediately consumed by increases in average miles driven per person per annum.

An economy with a cash surplus and spare productivity, such as the US was after the war, can tolerate and absorb these inefficiencies (for a while) -- particularly with a fairly low population density and abundant cheap fossil fuel.  But can the economies of "emerging nations" with high population densities, in an era of rising fossil fuel costs, afford the grotesque wastefulness of vulgarised private auto transport and the enormous State subsidies required to make it "affordable"?  With barely enough land to feed existing population, can China for example afford to permit the insane land use patterns that result from "car culture"?

The Chinese skipped a generation of phone technology as they modernised:  they saw the inefficiency, resource hoggery and enormous installation cost of copper landlines and moved directly to cell phone technology.  It would seem short-sighted in them or any other emerging national power to reproduce the inefficiencies of the late American automophiliac society -- a hangover from the 40's and 50's, increasingly dysfunctional today.  So I wonder whether the Third World -- despite the consumer trance induced by sexy auto industry ads and the undisputable appeal of owning one's very own 'flying carpet' -- can afford to, or will be stupid enough to, try to retrace the auto-based development path of the US/UK/Japan.  If they do, I doubt whether their economies, their medical/health systems, or their already-stressed agricultural resources will take the strain.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 01:34:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a thought-provoking post, but I don't think that the Chinese have an either - or choice.  Take Japan for instance,  they don't have a carburb culture by any means, but they still have a lot more cars than China does today.  Even modest car ownership in China will cause tremendous demand for oil.
by corncam on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 07:40:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Water pollution? How about flushing the bilges?

LNG would vaporize instantly at normal temps.  Most modern oil tankers have segregated ballast water tankage anyway.  LNG tankers are pretty special beasts.  I cannot imagine they ever allow salt water into the pressure/refrigerated tanks due to the materials and need to avoid corrosion.  Although you can have stowaway critters in ballast that is a problem for any and all ships.

LNG is some scary shit though if mishandled.  Those acetylene and propane tanks blowing off in St. Louis today would be like fireflys in comparison.

Still, those facilities can be operated safely same as nuke power plants.  I prefer to look at wind farms myself, but everything to do with energy has some tradeoff.

by HiD on Sat Jun 25th, 2005 at 02:04:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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