LNG better for maritime and people | Don Brunell

There is an old saying: Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good!

That is important to remember when it comes to improving our air quality.

While some activists want to eliminate all fossil fuels used on the waterfront, it is not possible without major disruption to our quality of life, jobs and economy. That is not the perfect. It is a recipe for disaster.

The better way is to recognize the major environmental improvements we have accomplished and find ways to continue to solve problems. That is good for all Americans.

Here is an example of positive change. In 2012, TOTE, which started as Totem Ocean Trailer Express in 1975, hauls more than 35 percent all goods consumed in Alaska.

TOTE announced plans to convert its Maritime fleet to operate on cleaner burning liquefied natural gas or LNG. The fuel switch on its east coast ships operating the Caribbean is complete. Now, TOTE Alaska Maritime is focusing on the transition with its vessels operating between Tacoma and Anchorage.

In 2014, TOTE inked an agreement with Puget Sound Energy (PSE), Washington’s largest supplier of electricity and natural gas, to furnish LNG for its ships.

While TOTE Maritime Alaska is well into the LNG conversion, there is a glitch. Activists are attempting to block construction of PSE’s $300 million LNG plant on Tacoma’s Tide Flats. If they succeed, they will put our state’s ports at a competitive risk with Los Angeles and Vancouver (Canada) ports which are currently adding LNG facilities.

“By switching from diesel to LNG, maritime vessels at the Port will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions into Tacoma’s air by more than 30 percent and dangerous particulate (smoke) emissions by more than 90 percent,” Puget Sound Energy Vice President Andy Wappler pointed out in The New Tribune, Tacoma.

That is important because EPA calculated there are 23 million people with port-related jobs and seaports account for 26 percent of the United States economy. There are an additional 39 million Americans who live in proximity to ports.

LNG processing reduces “greenhouses gases” and eliminates other air contaminants. During conversion from natural gas to LNG, CO2 and other pollutants are removed. LNG is simply the same natural gas we use in our homes and businesses, only purified and refrigerated to minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit, where it turns into a liquid.

LNG is not explosive or even flammable in its liquid state even though LNG takes up about one-600th the volume of natural gas in the gaseous state.

When warmed, it’s the same fuel we all use in our stoves and furnaces, and requires the same safety precautions. Storage tanks holding the LNG are not pressurized.

The tank PSE plans to install in Tacoma is “designed to withstand a once-in-every-2,450-year earthquake (compared to our highway bridges, which are designed to a 1,000-year-earthquake standard),” Wappler contends.

PSE’s new facility not only benefits TOTE and shippers, Wappler figures it will save its natural gas customers between $50 million and $100 million over 10 years compared to the cost of increasing pipeline capacity into the region.

There is one other environmental benefit. TOTE’s relationship with ALPAR— Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling —brings tons of recycled material to Tacoma for processing.

Grace Greene, TOTE’s Alaska General Manager, told Alaska Business Monthly magazine there are other partners who contribute to the project, “but we’re probably one of the top three contributors, to the tune of more than $1 million every year.”

As with everything we do or build there are associated risks, but total risk avoidance is impossible. We just have to make sure the good gets better.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.