Engineer on gas project: 'Seems kind of risky'
WATKINS GLEN—Nearly 40 residents and local officials gathered in the village board room to listen to Dr. Chuck Sorenson present his opinions on the proposed Inergy Liquid Propane Gas storage facility in Reading. Sorenson is a chemical engineer who has experience with LPG storage facilities through his employment with Mobil Oil (now Exxon Mobil). The presentation was organized by gas storage opponent group Gas Free Seneca in preparation for the upcoming public hearing to be held by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The hearing on Inergy’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement was scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m.
Sorenson began his presentation by explaining that a quantitative risk assessment was a way to analyze the probability of a disaster and the potential damage that may result. The example he used was a possible collision between a truck carrying LPG and another vehicle. He said the probability of this type of event occurring during the lifetime of the project was probably high, but that the damage would vary depending on the severity of the collision. His research has revealed that the proposed facility will be the largest LPG storage facility in the northeast and Inergy has relatively little experience in the LPG storage industry. He added that it is the norm in the industry to retain a third party firm to prepare a quantitative risk assessment, especially for a project of this scale. Sorenson was not sure why this has not been done yet, but said that until it is, the project “seems kind of risky.”
The discussion then turned to Sorenson’s concerns with the proposed facility which he felt were not fully addressed by the DEIS. One of Sorenson’s concerns was the burden an explosion or other disaster would place on the local Fire Department. Most of the firefighters who would respond to an LPG disaster would be volunteer. Sorenson argued that because of the unique scenarios created by LPG disasters, additional training and equipment would be required. Although he felt the DEIS appropriately addressed on site disaster concerns, off site scenarios, like transportation risks and the risk to adjacent facilities, was lacking.
Another of the holes in the DEIS identified by Sorenson was the lack of a comprehensive analysis of an accidental release of LPG. He said that when LPG is released into the atmosphere it quickly evaporates and forms a dense cloud of gas. LPG storage facilities are typically located where the terrain is level; this facility, however, would be located on a hillside. It is Sorenson’s belief that if an accidental release were to occur, the cloud could drift down the hill to Seneca Lake with the potential to travel to Watkins Glen depending on the prevailing wind direction. Sorenson emphasized that this was a hypothetical, and that no one really knows what would happen to this gas cloud because the proper analysis has not been done. Until then, Sorenson said, “we are all arguing about speculation.”
Sorenson concluded the presentation by explaining that although the DEC will require best industry practice safeguards before allowing the project to move forward, this does not eliminate the possibility of a disaster. The DEC leaves it up to local governments to decide the acceptable level of risk for their respective communities, he said. Sorenson concluded that was why a risk assessment becomes important as a means to analyze the possibility of a disaster scenario, the potential harm, and to determine what can be done to mitigate those risks.
Although several local officials were in attendance, including Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton and Schuyler County Legislative Chairman Dennis Fagan, there was no official response from any locality.