Open letter to West Vancouver Council: stick to your ban on LNG tankers

On Monday - West Vancouver Council will be pressured by Woodfibre LNG to reverse the city's ban on LNG tankers in Howe Sound

Howe Sound LNG carrier
LNG tanker (Wiki Commons), and Howe Sound from the Chief by Herb Johnson

On Monday, September 8th Woodfibre LNG will be making a direct presentation to West Vancouver Council about the foreign company's proposal to build their plant in Howe Sound, in the backyard of Vancouver.

As a West Vancouver taxpayer, I was present at that meeting on July 21st when the District of West Vancouver Council members unanimously passed a motion to ban Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tankers in Howe Sound. All of us who were there applauded them for doing so.

Conservative MP John Weston MP -- who represents West Vancouver and Howe Sound -- was NOT there and did not hear the presentation. However, he widely published an open letter in the media to publicly criticize the Council for taking that action. 

Weston argued that people should refrain from commenting on matters that are not in their "backyard."  Well, I would argue that Howe Sound IS very much West Vancouver's backyard. In fact it is the Lower Mainland’s backyard. It is loved by anyone who lives along its shores, has ever driven the Sea to Sky highway, taken a ferry or boat trip out of Horseshoe Bay, or is amazed that whales have returned to the waters they abandoned decades ago.

We all have the right and the responsibility to speak out when a bad idea is foisted on us by a government that has too much political capital invested in locking our future into a policy of destructive extraction and export of fossil fuels.  And ignoring the attendant fracking and climate change issues, which have real economic impacts! 

I invite residents of West Vancouver and all residents along the tanker route from Squamish to Sooke to look seaward and visualize 1000-foot long LNG supertankers passing by, while bringing their moving hazard zones along with them. They need to know that tankers carrying more than 60,000 tonnes of super cooled, liquefied methane will be coming to their ocean neighbourhoods from Howe Sound – compliments of Woodfibre LNG. I know I will have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I see an LNG tanker going by my front door.

Queen of Surrey - LNG Akwa Ibom

LNG Akwa Ibom by Manuel Hernández Lafuente

So here’s the thing. Everyone at that July meeting heard information that will likely NEVER come from Woodfibre LNG, from the government or from the Environmental Assessment [EA] process. I wish to say thank you for the expert presentation we heard. It took a high level perspective, was based on diligent and documented research, extensive scientific knowledge and decades of business experience. Council made a responsible and informed decision when they voted to ban LNG tankers from Howe Sound. When Council hears Woodfibre LNG’s presentation on Monday September 8th, I wonder what Woodfibre proponents won’t be saying.

Although the world has not yet witnessed a worse case large LNG accident, scientific research has certainly determined what we can expect when it does happen.

Here are a some examples.

There is potential for a catastrophic 1000º F plume fire if a vaporizing LNG cloud (as would be generated by a large spill on water) meets an ignition source. It turns out that a large LNG spilled on water would not simply evaporate harmlessly as we have been led to believe. It first forms a heavier than air dense foggy vapour cloud ready to blow where the wind takes it. Oh, and normal fire fighting techniques are useless since water doesn’t put out an LNG fire. Are you listening municipal fire departments?

LNG Hazard Zones exist. They are based on extensive research conducted by Sandia National Laboratories for the U.S. Dept. of Energy. Hazard zones travel with LNG tankers and typically extend out as far as 3500 meters on either side of a transiting ship. Fire, burns, explosion, cryogenic freezing, and asphyxiation are listed as hazards in these zones. Woodfibre LNG proponents have neither acknowledged nor provided maps of hazard zones for their project. 

The massive bulk, height and depth of LNG tankers create tricky navigational issues especially in windy, and constricted waters like Howe Sound. There are issues like long stopping distances, limited physical sight lines especially off the bow; and the potential for bow wave impacts when deep waves approach shallow shorelines. Remember the fast ferries? 

Super cold LNG can make steel as brittle as glass. If LNG is accidently spilled into a ship’s hull there is potential to shatter the steel. In addition, and unlike oil, spilled LNG cannot be recovered. It must either vaporize or burn. If you hear government officials talk about world leading spill response times when discussing LNG - be very suspicious. They are probably talking about oil and may not know that LNG is very different.

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