LNG shipping has an enviable safety record

August 5, 2015

Captain Stephen Brown is the president of the Chamber of Shipping of British Columbia.

The United States is about to do it. Australia, Russia, Indonesia and even tiny Trinidad and Tobago already do it. They all export liquefied natural gas by sea to world markets, creating enormous benefits for their citizens.

A proposal in Nova Scotia recently received some good regulatory news, but the best prospects for this new-to-Canada export industry lie in British Columbia.

The province has passed legislation that will establish a solid regulatory and tax environment for the export of LNG. It is an important step forward in the push to export clean energy, primarily to Asia.

Those exports will be carried by some of the most technically advanced vessels in the world. LNG carriers meet the world’s highest regulatory requirements. When it comes to safety, the regulatory environment for shipping is no different than for civil aviation – just as it should be. Standards are high, and enforcement is demanding.

Unfortunately, the debate surrounding Canada’s development of this opportunity has been marked by a well-coordinated campaign of misinformation, exaggerated claims and blatant fear-mongering.

I would like to share a few facts, since I know there are lingering questions about an industry that is still new to most Canadians.

The reality is that LNG has been safely loaded onto and carried by ships for more than 50 years. At last count, the Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO) calculates that more than 80,000 LNG cargoes have been safely delivered, with no loss of cargo tank containment and no on-board fatalities attributable to cargo operations. That’s an enviable record of achievement in any mode of transportation.

It should also be appreciated that LNG is not carried under pressure – it is simply natural gas that has been cooled until it has reached a liquid state, a simple but proven and safe process. In the highly unlikely event of a loss of containment, LNG would return to a gaseous state and dissipate, with no impact on water or land.

In order for a fire to occur, there must simultaneously be a loss of containment, a narrow fuel-to-air ratio and a spark. Should such a probability of disaster be applied to aviation, every airport in Canada would be closed tomorrow.

When it comes to moving LNG, the marine industry will ensure that the highest safety standards are employed. The construction, cargo containment systems and precision navigation capability of modern ships, along with senior Canadian marine pilot expertise and some of the most powerful escort tugs in the world, will combine to leave nothing to chance. That’s how it should be: experience, expertise and a demanding regulatory environment with strictly enforced compliance.

An example of a project close to reality is Woodfibre LNG, a relatively small-scale terminal planned for an existing industrial site in Howe Sound, near Squamish, B.C. This proposal would see three or four vessels a month transiting the same proven route already used by more than 100 large vessels each year.

Everyone depends on the safe, reliable movement of goods through our ports. That includes energy products. Energy drives our economy, heats our homes, supports communities and delivers revenues to all levels of government to pay for our health care, social services, pensions and education systems.

We know we have work to do, but we have the opportunity to launch this new industry for our province and for Canada – an industry that will deliver jobs, diversify our economy and contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Final investment decisions are awaited, but our provincial and federal governments are working hard to make it happen. So too is your marine industry. Do not be misled by those who challenge the ability of tightly regulated economic development and environmental sustainability to co-exist. Our environment and the economy are interdependent pillars of our very existence – and the marine industry understands its obligations and intends to deliver.