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County board asks DRBC to reject LNG project

Insulated railroad tanker cars filled with liquefied natural gas will be rolling through Lehigh County if, according to information provided by county Commissioner Bob Elbich, the Delaware River Basin Commission gives the green light for a plan to build a new dock from which railroad tanker cars filled with LNG will be emptied into ocean-going ships.

The country board voted 8-0 (Commissioner Nate Brown was absent from the online meeting) approving a nonbinding resolution asking the DRBC to reject the project slated to be built in Gibbstown, N.J. directly across the river from Philadelphia International Airport.

New Fortress Energy is planning the overland transport of LNG (also known as liquid methane) by truck on public highways and by rail car on existing railways from a yet-to-be-completed liquefaction plant in Wyalusing, (northwest of Scranton) to a proposed LNG export terminal in Gibbstown.

Elbich, an engineer with experience in LNG, sounded the warning Aug. 12 during the county commissioners meeting.

He fears construction of the new dock will set the groundwork for potential catastrophe to local communities caused by the upsurge in thousands of LNG-laden rail cars and highway-bound tanker trucks rolling through local towns.

Elbich’s resolution also wants the DRBC “to ensure public safety by taking all actions necessary to effectively control the transportation of Liquefied Natural Gas through Lehigh County by truck and/or by rail, provide appropriate emergency response training and resources for Lehigh County agencies and to conduct a public health and safety analysis, a quantitative risk assessment and a comprehensive environmental review of the potential impacts to Lehigh County communities.”

LNG is natural gas that has been chilled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit in a process that removes water, carbon dioxide and other compounds, leaving mostly methane in a fluid that takes up less than 1/600th the space it previously occupied as a gas,” according to Jennifer H. Dlouhy and quoted in Fortune.com.

LNG does not burn on its own and it can’t ignite in its liquefied state. The risk comes if a tank car were ruptured and LNG were exposed to the air, triggering the LNG to rapidly convert back into a flammable gas and evaporate,” Dlouhy said.

While the probability of a LNG-loaded rail car exploding is low, it is not unheard of. Such an incident is capable of producing a thermobaric explosion which is a type of explosion used by the military to destroy buildings, bunkers from the inside out.

In other words, an explosive gas is forced inside these structures and then ignited producing the effect of blowing something up from the inside. Thermobaric explosions can also asphyxiate people in tunnels and caves by burning all the oxygen from the air they breathe.

According to Elbich, 5 million gallons of LNG could be sent through Allentown and other local communities if the Delaware River port is built. That could equal 166 rail road tanker cars per day that would roll along a route that includes Walnutport, Northampton, Catasauqua, Allentown, Emmaus, Macungie, Alburtis on the way to the port across the river from Philadelphia.

According to Dlouhy, writing in Fortune.com,

“Independent experts on railway safety, such as Fred Millar, warn that such changes would ‘pose an unprecedented new level of risk for American cities,’ and are being pursued hastily ‘because of enormous pressure to sell our fracked gas.’”

In the article, Millar warns that, “LNG is especially hazardous because of its ability to easily warm to a vigorous boil, forming a flammable gas cloud that can erupt into an unquenchable fire.

A 1944 explosion in Cleveland killed more than 100 people after liquefied natural gas from an East Ohio Gas Co. storage tank seeped into the city’s sewer system and ignited, leveling homes and businesses across several city blocks, he said.

FILE PHOTO Lehigh County Commissioner Bob Elbich, shown at his swearing-in ceremony, is concerned local communities will be devastated by liquefied natural gas explosions if plans to ship the material by rail or truck are approved by the Delaware River Basin Commission.