Mon., March 7, 2011 11:44pm (EST)

LNG Options Limited For Savannah
By Orlando Montoya
Updated: 3 years ago

SAVANNAH, Ga.  —  
The Elba Island LNG, or Liquefied Natural Gas, terminal on Elba Island.  The company wants to truck LNG from this terminal through the city of Savannah to open new markets that would be cheaper than diesel fuel for commercial shippers.  The proposal has run into intense opposition in the city.  (photo VPems)
The Elba Island LNG, or Liquefied Natural Gas, terminal on Elba Island. The company wants to truck LNG from this terminal through the city of Savannah to open new markets that would be cheaper than diesel fuel for commercial shippers. The proposal has run into intense opposition in the city. (photo VPems)
Georgia public safety officials said Monday that there's little they can do to prevent liquefied natural gas from being trucked on Savannah streets.

The comments came three months after federal officials said much the same thing.

City officials are concerned about a proposal by Southern LNG to truck liquefied natural gas from the company's ocean terminal through the city.

Three months ago, federal officials at a public hearing said that they only had authority over the terminal, on Elba Island.

Streets were a state matter.

So, to get answers from the state, the city called Capt. Bruce Bugg of the Public Safety Department's Motor Carrier Compliance Division.

His answers left many residents fuming.

"Liquefied natural gas is a legal product as long as it's transported in compliance with the federal and state hazardous materials regulations," Capt. Bugg said. "So the state can't deny its transportation."

Residents don't want the hazardous material trucked near their homes, schools and hospitals.

For the first time in the six months since the company's plan became public, one of those hospitals came forward to oppose the possibility of LNG trucks.

"We do not have confidence in the information that we have heard thus far that would cause us to believe that the risks are insignificant," said Peter Shenk, Vice President of Ancillary Services for St. Joseph's/Candler Health System, whose Candler Hospital is directly on the engergy company's preferred route. "St. Joseph's/Candler can no longer stay neutral on this topic and must oppose LNG access to DeRenne Avenue."

Savannah's fire chief echoed his concerns.

Chief Charles Middleton said that Southern LNG -- a partnership of Atlanta Gas Light and El Paso Corporation -- still hasn't provided details on how it would handle an accident that could start a massive fire that burns for days.

"My primary concern is the emergency plan and how it's going to be implemented, the responsibilities of LNG and the responsibilities of us as first responders," Middleton said. "They didn't offer anything new in that regard on any front."

Company officials said that they will offer a plan after federal officials approve their truck loading dock on Elba Island.

They also gave a 30 minute presentation in which they maintained that LNG has a proven safety record and is better for the environment than diesel.

While none of this satisfied city officials, two possible options for them did emerge.

A city consultant suggested passing local ordinances to control the trucks' routes and times of operation.

But Capt. Bugg said that in his experience, such efforts could be overturned if they are not carefully crafted to avoid "impeding commerce."

Another option would be for the city to press federal regulators to require an Environmental Impact Statement.

That's a multi-agency review that would scrutinize the project in more detail than under a more expedited process.