"Why is Boston the only major city with an LNG terminal? Because no one else wants one... rather than fostering economic growth in this area, the LNG plant is likely to discourage it, because of its false promises and its many drawbacks.
Following a long and loathsome tradition, the arguments put out by Coos Bay’s LNG lobby have become increasingly shrill – and increasingly ridiculous. A prime example of their silliness appeared in The World of May 17. It was written by Richard Leshley, the owner of Yellow Cabs and a fervent B.S. Oregon booster, whose taxicabs carry signs for that Jordan Cove-funded lobby that our local paper persists in calling “grassroots”.
On a recent visit to Boston, Mass., Mr. Leshley had noticed the presence of “a large LNG facility” in that city. He had also observed that Boston is a crowded place, with busy restaurants and a stadium that was totally packed during the World Series. Conclusion of the Leshley Fact-Finding Mission: those who have predicted that LNG will turn Coos Bay into a “ghost town” are totally wrong, and Boston proves it. Don’t y’all worry yo’ purdy li’l heads ‘bout no LNG, chillun!
A GHOST TOWN?
Speaking for myself, I have not used the expression “ghost town” to describe what Coos Bay may become due to Jordan Cove’s presence.
But I won’t rule out the possibility that it has been used, as the kind of hyperbole common in political disputes, like a Knife River goon calling a female LNG critic “a piece of crap.”
What I HAVE predicted is that rather than fostering economic growth in this area, the LNG plant is likely to discourage it, because of its false promises and its many drawbacks. One of Jordan Cove’s false promises is that its presence will bring in other, gas-dependent industries. We’ve had natural gas here for twelve years, and it has not brought in any new industries. How would Jordan Cove’s gas change that? Will it smell better? And the LNG terminal’s many drawbacks come in two kinds: physical and psychological. The physical ones include the expected monopolization of navigation in the bay, which is bound to discourage many other economic activities, and the 24/7 production of noise, lights and pollution. Dominating the psychological drawbacks will be the fear factor of what looks, to those with some education and a conscience, like a ticking incendiary timebomb.
A “ghost town” is a place where no one lives, which Coos Bay is unlikely to become unless it’s made uninhabitable. But the difference is only one of degree. Add up all the bad effects, and it’s hard to see how Jordan Cove could possibly reverse the decades-long trend of out-migration and population decline in the Coos Bay/North Bend area. I personally know people who have sworn to move away if it is built, and I know others, solid property owners in North Bend, who would never speak up but would love to sell out and move away but can’t, because of the depressed real estate market. I can’t see any reason why Jordan Cove’s presence would change that, even though there are always wild-eyed promoters with a different view, like the Ocean Grove bunch.
SO WHO WILL BENEFIT?
But wait! All this overheated talk about community foundations and tax payments and enterprise zones appears to be designed to remind us that Jordan Cove will add to the prosperity of local government officials of all kinds, and probably to their numbers too. Plus, it will give a couple of years of prosperity to Knife River for pouring a Hoover Dam’s worth of concrete, and to Yellow Cab for ferrying alcohol-filled LNG construction workers from one sleazy bar to another. After that – well, we don’t worry what happens after that. We’ll have made our bundle, and to hell with Coos Bay.
Of course, besides Yellow Cab and Knife River, there will be a few more temporary beneficiaries of Jordan Cove, nearly all of whom ardently support B.S. Oregon. But not all of those hoping for a payoff will get one. For one thing, there doesn’t seem to be much chance of the construction project hiring locals. And it seems not to have dawned on our City Fathers that Jordan Cove’s plan to create temporary housing for its construction workers has ruined a real chance of improving our real estate market by turning our numerous empty homes into paying assets, even if only for a couple of years.
BOSTON LNG: THE REALSTORY
So now, let us contrast Leshley’s news about Boston’s LNG terminal with some we have found on that same topic. The information was not difficult to secure, but maybe Mr. Leshley has not heard of computers or the internet. A brief Google search tells us that Boston’s Everett LNG terminal has been there since 1971, when LNG imports had just begun and public concern about its safety was negligible. Since then, the 9/11 calamity has caused Boston to be listed among the country’s top-10 terrorist targets by the U.S. Congress and by FERC, and also by Al-Qaida, the main reason being its LNG terminal’s vulnerability to a terrorist attack that could produce an urban firestorm and the live cremation of thousands of trapped Bostonians. In response, Boston’s long-time mayor Menino repeatedly tried to get the Everett terminal closed. He couldn’t do it, despite his argument that all of Boston’s emergency services could not possibly handle an LNG “pool fire”. Neither could the state of Massachusetts, according to State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan, who added: “. . . and I don’t think that you can train for that type of an incident.”
(Explanatory note: a “pool fire” is the technical term for a liquid gas spill onto a waterway which, especially if it has a current, will cause the cold liquid to warm and rapidly turn back into gas which, with the aid of one spark, becomes a floating inferno, capable of burning people one to three miles away. For further information, Google “pool fire”, “Jerry Havens” and “Sandia Laboratories.”)
Taking all this into account, it should not be surprising that Boston Magazine asked (and answered) the following question:
“Why is Boston the only major city with an LNG terminal?
Because nobody else wants one. When the Everett terminal was built in 1971, many viewed it as a step toward the future — an important energy source at the hub of a region. Since then, environmental and security concerns have scared off other cities, including Providence and Long Beach, California.”
But instead of talking to Boston officials, Mr. Leshley visited restaurants and the Boston stadium, and concluded that all was well.
REMEMBER 79 AD?
Which brings me to my next topic: stadiums. Archeologists have found an extremely well-designed, 2,000 year-old one from which even Boston’s stadium builders could have learned something. Designed to maximize crowd flow, public safety and convenience, it’s located in the excavated city of Pompeii, Italy, where life went on normally in August of the year 79 AD, just like in Boston today. And then the volcano blew, covering the city and its stadium with hot ash while killing an estimated 16,000 people.
With very little imagination we could attach different dates to this kind of scenario. Take the beautiful morning of 9/11/01 in New York, for instance, with everybody at work in the twin towers. Or think early March 2012 in Fukushima, Japan, at the local nuclear plant. Or, maybe, quiet Pearl Harbor on a Sunday morning in December 1941.
COLD COMFORT IN NEWPORT
Besides the Boston LNG terminal, Mr. Leshley cited a second piece of evidence favoring his cause, which is the LNG tank in the Newport harbor. Wrote Leshley: “If you have tried to find parking in Newport during the summer near the waterfront, you know that Newport does not have a tourist issue with LNG. . . . ” And then he quotes our local “tourism officials” who have assured him Jordan Cove will not harm tourism.
To start with those “tourism officials”, Timm Slater, the manager of Coos Bay’s tourist information center, has for decades been part of the local eco-devo mafia, and today is part of the secretive group that runs B.S. Oregon. Of course he is going to toe the party line.
And just like Boston’s LNG terminal, the Newport tank’s presence proves nothing; both facilities landed below the radar, which they could not do today. It’s essential to remember that our present-day awareness of the extreme geologic hazards along the Oregon coast solidified only twenty years ago. Back in the ‘seventies there was a general assumption, soothing but wrong, that the angles and the direction of the geologic subduction process along our coast were different from those along highly-earthquake prone coasts like that of Chile, and that hence we had nothing to worry about. One shaky pillar supporting this assumption was that no major quakes or tsunamis had hit the coast since its settlement by people who kept records. It wasn’t until the late ‘eighties when geologists dug up evidence of major quakes and tsunamis in the distant past. Finally, around 1995, they determined that in the last 10,000 years 41 major quakes had hit the coast, all accompanied by big tsunamis. Divide 10,000 by 41, and you get an average interval between quakes of 244 years. Of course, geologic events are not like clockwork, but any of these blowhards who call people concerned about the next disaster sissies should know that the most recent one occurred in 1700. Going by the 244 year rule, that makes the next big earthquake/tsunami overdue.
And that is why the geologists and oceanographers at Oregon State concluded that chances of such a catastrophe hitting the southern Oregon coast during the next fifty years were 37%. Plain logic suggests that as time goes on, that probability will rise.
For a very readable if worrying history of the growth of earthquake/tsunami awareness, see this excerpt from “Cascadia’s Fault” by Jerry Thompson, in http://discovermagazine.com/2012/extreme-earth/01-big-one-earthquake-could-devastate-pacific-northwest
The Newport facility was built in 1977, when none of this was known; and the present tsunami wave height predictions for Yaquina Bay talk in terms of 80-feet waves. Anybody who has visited Newport will understand what that means for the low-lying tourist area where boat basin and the aquarium and the science center are located, along with Mr. Leshey’s LNG tank. That tank has a storage capacity of only 14% of Jordan Cove’s terminal. It’s not an import or export terminal but it holds a back-up supply for Northwest Natural’s pipelines. When consumer demand is low, excess gas in the line is chilled and kept in LNG-form in the Newport tank, thus reduced 600 times in volume. When demand is high, the LNG is re-gasified and sent back into the system. As a result, the Newport tank is rarely full; even so, it poses a serious risk, and I doubt that today Northwest Natural could locate it in a vulnerable, built-up area like that. I would hope not, anyway.
The Newport LNG tank is one of four such facilities in the Northwest. Another one is the LNG plant in Plymouth, WA, where an unexplained explosion in April caused one death and a two-mile radius evacuation. Is the one in Newport supposed to set us at ease?
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
And of course, the biggest elephant-in-the-room that Mr. Leshley ignored was that Boston does not face the virtual certainty of a massive earthquake and tsunami during Jordan Cove’s lifespan. The earthquake/tsunami in Japan two years ago set two oil refineries on fire and damaged an LNG import terminal enough to close it for a year. The main reason it was not damaged worse was its protected location, which reduced the height of the tsunami. Jordan Cove has no such protection, although it claims in its government documents that a tsunami, because it will enter Coos Bay through the harbor entrance, will be largely spent by the time it reaches its plant. Watch one or two of the Japanese tsunami videos to see how ludicrous that is. Instead of being a good boy and nicely entering between the jetties, the tsunami will roll right over the North Spit to hit Jordan Cove head-on. And this will be right after the earthquake has done Lord-knows-what to the LNG terminal, which sits on a glorified sand shoal, subject to liquefaction and being tilted or lowered several feet.
Should the earthquake/tsunami fail to damage the terminal, causing a breach, the odds are even better that it will breach the tanks of an LNG tanker docked at the terminal. That’s because, with only 15 to 20 minutes between the earthquake and the tsunami, it will be impossible for this tanker to make it to the deep ocean, where it will be safe. Just prior to the tsunami it will be grounded in the bay due to the customary drop of the water until the big waves hit, and it’s likely to be tossed onto shore then. Large ships, including LNG tankers, are not built to take that kind of treatment; the resulting spill and pool fire could incinerate the entire Coos Bay/North Bend peninsula.
We now know that when the Fukushima nuclear plant was hit by the tsunami of March 11, 2012, 90% of the workers at that plant fled for their lives. I see no reason to expect that the scenario at Jordan Cove will be any different. The terminal’s vaunted firefighters will have abandoned their stations and fled west for their lives – if they can find a dune high enough, that is. The human survival instinct trumps many others. So does the desperation of those who will have lost everything thanks to that disaster. There will be no communications and no law, but there will be desperate people roaming around, people who have lost everything. And they will be looking for the blood of those who foisted this corporate atrocity on us.
Many, many years ago one of our amateur ensembles put on a play by the Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen, called An Enemy of the People. If its performance had been repeated annually in Coos Bay, it might have done us a world of good. Written at a time (1882) when “taking the waters” was frequent doctors’ advice for all kinds of maladies (It still is in Germany, where stays at places with mineral waters are paid for by health insurance), the play was about a small town where a spring of health-giving water is discovered. Great excitement down at the Chamber of Commerce: prosperity is just around the corner! Big investments are made! Then the chief character in the play, a doctor, discovers that the healthy water actually contains poison. He tries to stop the gold rush, but B.S. Oregon – I mean, B.S. Norway – wants to suppress his information, and when he persists, he is fired from his job, ostracized, and officially declared “An Enemy of the People.”
I suppose you could say he was lucky. A couple of centuries earlier they would have found a way to burn him at the strake.