Is LNG worth the risk?

This week, columnist Rob Brown talks about a community in Oregon – they said "No" to LNG

The Boom is here. Roads to build pipelines will be hacked through wilderness to reach proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants in Kitimat. Most northwesters are embracing the LNG with a level of enthusiasm we haven’t seen since Terrace won the right to be called Hockeyville.

In retrospect, Hockeyville was a sham perpetrated by the Kraft and the NHL. For all the energy expended by a large number of its citizens, this community got to see a meaningless scrum by the Vancouver Canucks, minus their biggest stars, see pyramids of the substandard “food” products of Kraft manufacture in the local supermarkets, and were given the opportunity to purchase those same semi-toxic faux food items at a discount. The whole thing was a big bust that left a feeling reminiscent of the disappointment you felt as a kid when the giant dinosaur pictured on the front of the cereal box turned out to be tiny bit of hard plastic buried under the pile of sugared cornflakes inside. Still, not much harm was done. In the case of the LNG boom, we are dealing with larger corporations. Energy companies are a more powerful and more malign breed of corporate cat.

When a lot of well meaning people get together to form a corporation, the whole soon takes on a moral character different from the ethos of the individuals. The giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the derivative scandal that ultimately toppled Wall Street are but two recent examples of this dynamic in action. History is replete with such corporate crime, much of it with tragic results. The bottom line trumps all in the corporate world and that includes your health and mine and the health of children and our children’s children. We need to keep this axiom uppermost in our minds when dealing with corporations.

Jordan Cove is a community in Coos Bay Oregon. Coos Bay is the largest city on the Oregon Coast with a population of 16,000. Ten years ago some energy corporations, including Veresen of Calgary, applied for a pipeline and an LNG terminal there similar to that proposed for Kitimat. Instead of throwing out the welcome mat, the citizens of Jordan Cove studied LNG, and were shocked. Ultimately they went to court and pulled the rug out from under the proponents. The reasons for the rejection are legion. I haven’t room to deal with all of them today, but I’ll start with a fundamental one – air pollution.

Joseph T. Morgan, M.D., a physician with Bay Clinic, LLP, since 1966, has practiced medicine for 50 years, specializing exclusively in adult and pediatric allergy and environmental medicine since 2003. Among his credentials, he is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and the American Board of Environmental Medicine; is a member and past president of medical staff at Bay Area Hospital; and is fellow emeritus of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

In a letter to The World, a daily serving the Coos Bay area, Dr. Morgan noted that 800 tons per year of harmful air pollutants, including oxides of nitrogen, oxides of sulfur, volatile organic compounds, and fine particulates from the plant and from the tankers and service vessels entering and leaving the bay, and about the same total from the proposed LNG export facility. In addition, another 2.2 million tons per year of greenhouse gases will be discharged, primarily from the gas-fired electrical generating plant, which would be built to supply power for the LNG terminal.

“The wind will not dilute and dissipate these toxic air pollutants sufficiently to mitigate the fact that we all will be breathing them”’ writes Dr. Morgan. “I fully expect that there would be a significant exposure to Coquille and possibly Myrtle Point. Those at greatest risk are the very young, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses, especially asthma, COPD, heart disease and sinus problems. There wouldn’t be a body count in weeks or even months, but some especially susceptible individuals may develop problems early on. For others, it may take years or even a couple of decades. But I am not exaggerating when I say that there will, sooner or later, be a price to pay. I have already spent too many years dealing with these types of illnesses to want to have more cases which can be avoided in the community.”

Presumably a similar discharge will be entering the Kitimat/Terrace air shed from each of the two proposed LNG plants. Doing a rough calculation based on the assumption that LNG plants ought to emit approximately the same amount of toxic effluent, this means that the citizens who breathe air from the Kitimat/Terrace air shed can expect that air shed to be carrying 2903 extra tonnes of toxins in addition to the considerable and soon to be increased burden of poison put there by Rio Tinto Alcan. Given Dr. Morgan’s warning, this poses an extreme health risk to all of us.