Hurricanes Miss LNG Terminal; Omen for Baja Plants

By Published On: September 25, 2004

It wasn?t quite Bogart in <i>Key Largo</i>, but managers at Panhandle Energy?s Lake Charles, Louisiana, liquefied natural gas terminal did keep a close watch on Hurricane Ivan earlier this month as it approached landfall on the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, Hurricane Javier off the west coast of Mexico packed a wallop and sent giant waves northward toward the site of planned LNG terminals in Baja California, just south of San Diego. Although less exposed to major hurricanes than terminals in the Gulf, the LNG facilities planned for the West Coast are vulnerable to storms, wave action from hurricanes in Mexico, and tsunamis that could stem from major earthquakes in Alaska. Fortunately, the storm made landfall far to the east of the Panhandle facility, which remained unaffected, said Panhandle spokesperson Jack Barnett. Even if it had hit, it probably wouldn?t have caused much damage, he said, because the plant is built to withstand winds in excess of 150 miles per hour. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requires that LNG terminals be designed to weather whatever natural events may come their way, said Jim Lewis, chair and chief executive officer of PTL Associates in the Houston area. The terminals tend to be ?aerodynamic,? he said, and slightly pressurized, which makes them less vulnerable to high winds than other structures. ?You don?t have any stress points,? he said, referring to the smooth, rounded tanks at the terminals. ?It?s like trying to crack a ball bearing.? Neither Lewis nor Barnett could recall an instance of an LNG terminal in the United States being hit by a full-force hurricane. The future may be different, however, with FERC and the U.S. Coast Guard recently approving 7 and considering 12 more liquefied natural gas import terminals in hurricane-prone coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico and the Bahama Islands. If built, they will join two operating terminals in hurricane-prone areas in Lake Charles and Elba Island, Georgia. Lewis surmised that as the terminals are built, it is likely that a floating offshore terminal could see some major damage in a hurricane. ?Those obviously are more vulnerable,? he said. Onshore, the proposed Sound Energy Solutions terminal in Long Beach is well situated to withstand tsunamis because the contour of the coast in Los Angeles County would buffer the ocean surge, which mostly likely would originate off Alaska in the event of a strong earthquake, according to Lewis. Lewis said that the large number of LNG terminals being planned would prevent the knockout of any single plant from disrupting the supply of natural gas. Moreover, he said, there is plenty of gas storage capacity to ride out even the perfect storm. As to potential loss of life, Barnett said emergency actions would match those at existing offshore oil platforms in the Gulf. Helicopters would sweep in to remove personnel well in advance of any hurricane. The Bogart era is long gone.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now