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 Bahamas Commentary

2006-01-27 17:49:13

Time For a Decision on LNG

Whatever the outcome, it is past time for government to make a decision.

No one will deny that liquefied natural gas (LNG) is a hazardous fuel. And, of course, as with all hazardous material, risks are. involved.

However, as someone remarked this week: "Life itself is a risk, it just depends on how well you manage it."

According to Dr Marcus Bethel, who recently entered the debate as to whether LNG terminals should be allowed to locate. in the Bahamas, an LNG terminal is safer than the corner gas station. No one thinks of a gas station as dangerous, but light a match while gas is being pumped into your car, and a massive explosion will usher you hastily from this world.

The 1,000 to 10,000-gallon fuel trucks that almost daily drive up and down our streets are a terrible hazard, but they are risks that we have accepted as part of daily living.

And no one gives a thought to the noxious yellow fumes - probably sulphur - spewed from BEC's chimneys at Clifton. Does anyone stop to think that these fumes are poisoning the air we breathe? Weekly large oil tankers anchor off Clifton to pump their fuel into the holding tanks of the three large oil companies. Every time they enter our waters there could be an accident. One oil spill could destroy our reefs, beaches, wild life and tourist industry. Yet it is a risk that we have accepted because we need fuel to run our cars, and gas to light our stoves.

These are some of the hazards that we have accepted as part of our daily living. They have become so much a part of us, that the fact that they are a potential hazard never enters our minds. Without them we would have to give up some of life's comforts. And without those basic comforts, life would not be worth living.

The sheiks of Dubai are planning for the future. Knowing that they have only about six more years before their oil wells run dry, they are turning to tourism. We also have to look to our future.

The world is dependent for its energy on Mid-East oil, which has now become a weapon of conquest and destruction. As a result the West is desperate to find a way to free itself from the Middle East threat. Like it or not, the Bahamas' future is caught up in that struggle.

At present the security of the United States' energy lies in its coal fields. However, the loss of 14 miners within the past three weeks in two West Virginia mine disasters, shows that there must be a safer way. No one wants a nuclear plant nearby, although an increase in nuclear plants is also another way. But of all these evils, liquefied natural gas, although hazardous, appears to have risks that are manageable.

Unlike coal, and fuel, the clear exhaust from natural gas will not cause our plant life to decay, nor will it pollute our air or our beaches. But like coal, oil, and nuclear energy there is the potential for an accident - there is the potential for fire, for explosion, for loss of life. But if we have learned to manage the dangers of the others, why not LNG, which, on its record, is the cleanest and seems to be the least hazardous of them all?

We were talking this week with a retired gentleman who has been in the fuel industry all his life and is most impressed with the future of natural gas.

He agrees that no LNG terminal should be sited near a populated area. For example, instead of Freeport harbour, he would opt for South Riding Point in High Rock at the old Burmah Oil terminal. He said one of the concerns of that location was that it was thought undesirable to have LNG tankers using the same area as the large oil tankers. However, he believes there are so few of the latter in the area that they should not present a problem. Also, the harbour of South Riding, a good distance from the nearest settlement, could accommodate 300,000 tonne tankers with a draught of more than 76 feet.

He believes the Ocean Cay location would be very safe, however, its location would not offer as much of an advantage to the Bahamas as would the South Riding location. He believes an agreement should be entered into whereby BEC would be supplied with its fuel from South Riding, and, if the LNG fuel delivered there contained not only methane, but also propane and butane, the latter two components could be extracted to provide the Bahamas with its cooking oil. He saw many advantages for the Bahamas, the chief being a regular supply of fuel that could be bought at Miami prices - even cheaper and cleaner than that offered by Venezuela, and with no strings attached.

The urgent need for new gas supplies should be balanced against public risk, and how well those risks can be managed to safeguard the public.

However, whatever the outcome, it is past time for government to make a decision.

Editorial from The Tribune

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