What’s Wrong with Puget Sound Energy’s Fracked Gas Project

Puget Sound Energy is trying to complete construction of a Liquefied Natural Gas facility in the Port of Tacoma.  It is quite a complex facility with five major components:

  • Refinery
  • Storage facility
  • Marine bunkering facility
  • Tanker truck facility
  • Peak-shaving facility (supplying extra gas during times of peak demand)

Proponents like to claim that the facility is good for Tacoma and good for the climate, but that is far from the truth.  The project has met stiff resistance from the community because:

  • The Puyallup Tribe, whose land it is being built upon, was not consulted nor have they given their consent – this is a violation of federal law;
  • The “natural” gas needed for the facility is extremely harmful to the communities and environment around fracking wells and its climate effects are likely worse than coal;
  • The Final Environmental Impact Statement and latest Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (looking at climate impacts) are both incomplete and inadequate;
  • There are many unanswered safety concerns about it;
  • It is a financial burden on PSE customers and Washington taxpayers, who will only see a minuscule fraction of its use: 43% of the construction costs, 1-2% of the use!

What can you do about it right now?

Call Governor Inslee and ask him to put his words into action!  He has come out against fracked gas and the PSE LNG project, now it’s time to act on that.  Ask him to halt construction and stand with the Puyallup Tribe.  Here’s his number to leave a polite message urging action: 360-902-4111.

Want to learn more?  Read on.

What is PSE building?

Puget Sound Energy is currently constructing a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility in the Port of Tacoma between the Blair and Hylebos waterways.  In what appears to be a unique configuration, the facility is a refinery, storage facility, marine fuel terminal, land fuel terminal and peak-shaving facility.  The facility will include an 8-million gallon storage tank that supplies a nearby dock for two TOTE Maritime ships as well as a station for loading two tanker trucks per day.  Although construction is underway, PSE must still obtain additional permits in order to complete the facility.  If it remains on schedule, it will be in operation by late 2019.

A peak-shaving facility is meant to augment the supply of natural gas to customers during times of peak demand, such as the coldest days in winter.  This is sometimes needed when the main pipeline supplying a region can not carry a sufficient amount of gas. In these times, the peak-shaving facility would simply serve as another source to make up the difference, converting the liquefied product back to gaseous form and feeding it into the supply system.

What is LNG?

Natural gas is another form of fossil fuel made up mostly of methane.  People know it best as the gas used for cooking or heating their home.  It is often found with coal and oil and is in fact often burned off as an unwanted product at the site of extraction.  More recently there has been a surge of targeted natural gas extraction with a method called fracking, which is short for hydraulic fracturing.  This destructive method injects water and hazardous chemicals into the earth at high pressures, causing cracks in underground rock formations and allowing natural gases to rise to the surface.  This has led to a host of issues including increased earthquakes, negative effects on human health, groundwater pollution, and air pollution.

Liquefied natural gas is simply natural gas, or methane, cooled to -260° F, condensing it into liquid form.  As a liquid, it is 600 times more dense allowing for much greater storage in a given volume.  This also makes it more practical as a marine fuel.

What is the current status of the project?

The project is currently undergoing a second Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (the first being requested by the Shorelines Hearing Board) by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.  They have now closed the public comment period and will compile our questions and submit them to be answered by Environment and Ecology, the firm that produced the poorly researched and prepared FEIS in the first place.  By February the PSCAA will come back with their final SEIS and then resume their process of reviewing PSE’s Notice of Construction permit and there will be public input at some point on any proposed PSCAA decision.

Both the WA State Attorney General’s office and WA Department of Ecology have submitted letters to PSCAA highlighting the gross errors and assumptions in the draft SEIS.

In April, the Tacoma Human Rights Commission wrote a letter to the Mayor and City Council urging a new SEIS.

Most recently, in early May, Governor Inslee came out against fracked gas and the PSE LNG project and Kalama methanol proposal.

These are huge victories for our coalition.

What is wrong with this facility?

  1. Violation of Treaty Rights
    • The Puyallup Tribe must be consulted about any projects taking place on their land – not doing so is a violation of federal law.
    • Two court cases have demonstrated that the PSE LNG facility is on tribal land.
  2. Incomplete Environmental Impact Statements
    Annette Bryan, Puyallup Tribal Council Member, recently explained to the Tacoma City Council several reasons why an additional environmental review should be opened up on this project:
    • FEIS only scoped for two TOTE vessels while SEIS calls for more
    • Much more of the LNG will be going to marine vessels than reported in FEIS
    • Mitigation elements were removed when the Hylebos part of the project was removed
    • Ships will be bunkering in the Blair rather than the Hylebos now
    • Ground flare height has changed since the FEIS
    • The throughput production number has changed in the SEIS
    • It is not clear how many heavy haul trucks will be used
  3. Environmental Impact
    • Fracked gas is most likely worse for the climate than coal because methane is 96 times worse than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period.  Over a 100 year period, which industry likes to quote, it is “only” 32 times as bad.
    • The source of gas for this LNG facility will primarily be from fracking in British Columbia, which comes with its own list of adverse effects to the health and well-being of those living nearby.
    • PSE claims LNG will help clean our air, but in fact the facility itself will be emitting a host of pollutants 24 hours a day, 365 days a year  including volatile organic compounds, nitrous oxide, sulfur oxide, particulate matter, sulfuric acid and more.
    • TOTE claims they must switch to LNG when in fact they are already meeting new maritime emissions regulations by using ultra low sulfur diesel.  It’s just more expensive.
    • The two TOTE ships are the only ships in the port that plug in to shore power when docked, turning off their diesel generators.  The other 1000 ship visits per year keep running their diesel generators while docked or anchored.
  4. Safety (mostly from Tarika Powell’s excellent work)
    • Industry recommends that such facilities be located 3 miles from residential and public areas.
      • The Puyallup Tribe marina is 1000 feet away
      • The nearest home is just over 2000 feet away
      • The Northwest Detention Center, with over 1500 people who must “shelter in place” in the event of emergency, is 2 miles away.
    • PSE’s proposed barge bunkering operations are undefined.
    • The Coast Guard does not have any regulations on LNG bunkering yet.
    • Marine traffic impacts on the Blair waterway have not been analyzed.
    • Industry recommends LNG port terminals be located in remote area of ports – this one is not.
    • Evacuation off the peninsula is difficult and has bottlenecks.
    • The LNG facility is very close to two fossil fuel tank farms (US Oil and Targa).
  5. Cost to Customers and Taxpayers
    • PSE customers are paying 43% of the cost and receiving 1-2% of the use of the facility.
    • We estimate the facility will cost each PSE customer $89.63!
    • The facility costs $310 million to build and PSE has burdened their customers (state-wide) with 43% of this by saying it’s a peak-shaving facility.
    • PSE’s customers will only see perhaps 7% of the use of this facility, and that’s only for the first 10 years.
    • After 10 years, the facility will provide no benefit to PSE customers and be purely for PSE’s profit.  That means over the 40 year life of the facility customers will only see 1-2% of its use.
    • A PSE natural gas customer living in Tacoma could be forced to contribute, on average, $170.60 to the LNG project through gas rate fees and taxes.  Briefly, here’s the math:
      • $134 million paid by utility ratepayers, spread across approximately 1.5 million customers = $89.63 per customer
      • $13.5 million paid by taxpayers (for fire station, road) spread across approximately 167,000 Tacomans = $80.97 per taxpayer
      • Additionally, it’s about $12 per year per Tacoma taxpayer to keep the new fire station in the Port of Tacoma running.
      • These figures don’t even include the millions more in PSE LNG tax subsidies approved by our state legislature
    • PSE only has a $50 million liability insurance policy. The small Plymouth LNG explosion in 2014 cost $69 million, not including a lawsuit from an injured firefighter. Accidents deemed “acts of god” (earthquakes, lahars, tsunamis, certain wildfires) are excluded from coverage altogether, so Tacoma would be left to foot the bill.

Additional Resources

Shortcomings of Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement

Documentary: What the Frack?

Todd Hay’s PSE LNG Page

Todd Hay’s GHG Analysis

Blog: Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Review of Puget Sound Energy Fracked Gas Project

Blog: PSE Has a Bad Gas Problem

Blog: Origins of LNG as a Maritime Fuel

Document: More on PSE Infrastructure

Video: Puyallup Tribe Urges PSE to Leave and Inslee to Act

Video: Sightline Researcher Tarika Powell Explodes the “Natural” Gas Myth

Video: Direct Action: Steve vs the Crane

Video: Community Speaks Out Against Fracked Gas

Video: Todd Hay Reveals Flaw in Draft SEIS

Video: Natural Gas – The Worst of All Fossil Fuels?

Video: Dockworker Tracy Wiegman Explains the Truth About PSE LNG

Video: Sightline Researcher Tarika Powell Testifies About PSE LNG Project in Court

Video: Chasing Methane

Article: Attorney General Calls Fracked Gas Review Fictional

Article: Sightline Testifies at Hearing for Local LNG Protesters

Article: What Goes on at an LNG Facility

Article: Tacoma Steering Into Uncertain Waters

Article: Tacoma’s Proposed LNG Plant Raises Safety Concerns

Article: This Vigilante Scientist Trekked Over 10,000 Kilometers to Reveal B.C.’s Leaking Gas Wells

Article: Canada’s Methane Leakage Massively Under-reported, Studies Find

Article: More Natural Gas Isn’t a “Middle Ground” – It’s a Disaster

Study: Fugitives in Our Midst