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Texada Gas Project Raises Safety Fears

Scared islanders mad at no-show politicians.

By Rafe Mair 8 Oct 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. You can find previous ones here. To register for free to hear Rafe Live, Mair's new webcast, visit www.rafelive.com.

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LNG tanker: not welcomed.

Last week I chaired a meeting in Powell River to protest the plan to build a large liquid natural gas (LNG) storing facility and gas-fired power generator on nearby Texada Island. This area is one of the great natural beauties of the province.

I, like many of you I'm sure, get bogged down in megawatts and the like, but suffice it to say that the Texada generating facility would become the single largest independent source of electricity in B.C. since Alcan's Kemano project was completed over 50 years ago. The rest of the gas would go into Terasen pipelines for other uses.

The LNG will be brought to the facility by huge tankers probably every week to 10 days. According to the literature, it's not so easy to transport gas as it is for coal and oil -- LNG requires either pipelines or huge special LNG tankers. To liquefy natural gas, you need to cool it down to about -160°C where it will then occupy 1/640 (0.15 per cent) of the original volume. Upon reaching its destination, it then has to be converted back to a gas by passing the liquid through vaporizers to warm it. Then it is transported through pipelines as normal gas. About a third of the original energy in the gas is lost in this double-conversion process.

Thus, safety is not a theoretical question. In 2004 an LNG facility in Algeria killed 27 and in July of 2004 an explosion in Belgium from a facility cast debris four miles; 15 people were killed, and 120 injured -- many severely burned. It caused a billion dollars damage.

In 1944, in Cleveland Ohio, a liquid natural gas explosion incinerated a square mile. The explosion destroyed 79 houses, two factories, and 217 cars. Its heat reached 1000 degrees, killed 130 and injured 275. The spill that created this blast was approximately five per cent of the volume held by a modern LNG tanker. Though the safety of LNG facilities has no doubt much improved, this gives an idea of what happens if things go badly wrong.

No show politicians

Added to these concerns is the possibility of terrorism. If you were living next to a LNG plant and you knew that with relative ease there could be an explosion that would wipe out your community, how would you feel? If you live in Kerrisdale, the British Properties or Oak Bay, you have no such worries. Choose Texada Island and it would never be off your mind.

It's also interesting to speculate that because this LNG is not going to an expanded Burrard Thermal plant for the B.C. market -- a much cheaper option -- but is going into a pipeline terminating in the U.S., that the U.S. market is what's being targeted. This suspicion is fueled unto certainty by the fact that B.C. has plenty of gas for its own use. Thus, it would seem, Texada Island runs the risk, the Yankees get the gas.

The general feeling expressed at this meeting was frustration. The Powell River Regional District, thanks to recent amendments to the law, can no longer prevent a development supported by the Campbell government. The folks look to the Environmental Assessment Act for help and learn, as have the people living along the Sea-to-Sky highway, the residents of West Vancouver near Eagleridge, and the good folks in Delta, that the assessment, if any, is done after the deal is done and that the director (a Campbell appointment) has no power to stop a project. In fact Premier Campbell can refuse to allow an assessment to take place or restrict its powers.

There are several ways the Federal government could halt the project but the fact that the member of Parliament for the area, Blair Wilson, wasn't there, though invited, didn't inspire hope. The Tory candidate, John Weston, wasn't there -- considering how hard he's been campaigning, this is astonishing and can only call his political courage into question. Though the MLA, Nicholas Simons, was there, his colleagues, Environment critic Shane Simpson, Transportation critic Maurine Karagianis, Municipal Affairs critic Charlie Wyse and John Horgan, critic for Energy and Mines all gave it a pass.

On the Campbell government side, Richard Neufeld, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources and the Environment Minister Barry Penner were both invited, and noted for their absence.

Not a NIMBY issue

The Campbell government evidently fears public questions and input. The Municipality of Delta will have a large truck highway built without their council being heard, much less approve, to serve a much expanded Deltaport they had no say in. These related projects will have a severe impact on air quality, on sensitive ecological areas including Burns Bog, and on the Agricultural Land Reserve, yet the Campbell government wasn't interested in what the people had to say. Even their usually loquacious Liberal MLA, Val Roddick, the self proclaimed protector of the ALR, was struck dumb.

Isn't there a principle of basic democracy involved here? Shouldn't a community have a say in whether or not a development, especially one which is potentially dangerous big time, be built in its backyard?

This Texada Island proposal is not a NIMBY issue such as having a half-way house in a neighbourhood might be. This high risk issue goes to the very soul of their entire community. Don't be fooled by the statement that the risk is an "acceptable one." If a risk is not restrained by any time limit, it's no longer a risk but a certainty waiting to happen.

If you live in Vancouver or Victoria you're probably saying "What the hell, this is progress! Can't stop having progress!"

Would you be saying that if an LNG plant was coming to where you and your family live? And therein lies the injustice. Large communities are spared high risk adventures. Communities like Powell River and Texada Island, without the population and political clout, must live with the risk without ever having had a fair chance to make their case.

Surely that can't be democracy even by British Columbia standards.

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