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Group airs concerns about planned Elba Island expansion

THE LOCAL activist group Citizens for Clean Air and Water (CCAW) met last Thursday to discuss their concerns for planned expansion of the El Paso Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) Facility at Elba Island. More than fifty concerned citizens met in the Savannah room of the Hyatt on Bay Street for a presentation led by Savannah attorney Clete Bergen, president of CCAW.

A volunteer service organization focused on clean air and water quality in Chatham County, CCAW’s mission has shifted over the past 25 years from concerns associated with area paper mills to a broader focus.

Thursday’s presentation touched on several key concerns CCAW has regarding the expansion of the LNG facilities just upriver from the meeting’s location, including how LNG is shipped, how it is stored and what could happen if the facility is compromised.

Southern LNG and El Paso have plans for a $1.1 billion expansion of the Elba Island facility, with the addition of two storage tanks that would double LNG storage capacity on the island. Beyond that, there are plans to build a 190-mile pipeline to Augusta to enable LNG to be pumped to Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina.

A pipeline currently stretches to Florida. The Elba Island facility would essentially be a receiving and distribution station for LNG.

Bergen pointed out that there are three ways to compromise the facility with devastating consequences to Savannah and surrounding areas: “an act of God” such as a hurricane or other natural disaster, human error and sabotage or terrorist attack.

The Elba Island facility can be seen from the Intracoastal Waterway. Bergen, who served in the Army and was trained for the infantry at Fort Benning, Ga., fears this makes the facility more prone to acts of terrorism.

“In the Army – in basic training – we shot things a whole lot further off than that,” he said. “These tanks could be a prime target.”

A tanker’s load of LNG could produce over 50 times the force and devastation of the hydrogen bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and could directly affect areas within a five-mile radius.

In response to Thursday night’s statements Chris Humes, General Manager for Southern LNG, said, “Southern LNG employees live and work in the community, and we are committed to maintaining a safe environment both at work and at home. I feel very strongly in the safety and security of Elba Island.”

Steve Willis, chair of the Coastal Chapter of the Sierra Club, points out that most LNG storage facilities are now being constructed offshore to prevent risk to cities and communities. According to Willis, four out of five approved LNG storage facility expansions either have been stopped by local resistance or are in litigation, the Elba Island facility being the only exception.

In addition to that, of the only five LNG programs that are moving forward successfully, four of them are offshore. Elba Island is the one facility that is located onshore.

“The LNG industry knows the future is offshore,” said Willis. “It is a bad business decision to spend $1.1 billion to expand, especially when in the near future all facilities will be moved offshore.”

CCAW urged local citizens to educate themselves on this situation and to speak to local elected officials about the matter. They advocate for an ordinance prohibiting the construction or expansion of any LNG storage facilities within five miles of a residential area.

“We’ve got a jewel of a city and I’d hate to see something happen to that,” said Bergan.

Representatives from the LNG industry and Elba Island facility were not invited to participate in the meeting.

“We continue to reach out to the community and have offered tours of our facility and educational demonstrations of LNG, including members of environmental groups and individuals seeking to better understand LNG and our facility,” said Humes. “Unfortunately, the Citizens for Clean Air and Water have repeatedly dismissed our attempts.”

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letters@connectsavannah.com

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