Environmental group opposes proposed Elba Island plant expansion

Environmental group opposes proposed Elba Island plant expansion

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A group of Savannah residents is worried about a proposed expansion of the liquefied natural gas terminal on Elba Island.

The Kinder Morgan energy company wants to expand storage on the island, and make the plant capable of exporting liquefied natural gas – or LNG – in liquid form.

The Elba Island plant already exports LNG in a gaseous form via pipeline, but if this proposal becomes a reality, it would be able to cool the gas to a liquid form and export it overseas on tanker ships. And that process has some people concerned.

"This is a three-mile ring around the island, and on either side as it goes down, you're looking at a potential disaster all the way to Tybee," said Clete Bergen, president of Citizens for Clean Air and Water, a non-profit environmental group in Savannah.

They fought this issue last time when the El Paso Corporation – now owned by Kinder Morgan – tried to propose a similar project where the liquid natural gas would be exported on trucks through Savannah.

"I'm so glad five years ago that this group was able, along with the city to head off them carrying the gas through town, because the only thing worse an 18-wheeler going through town is a 80,000 pound bomb going through town," said Howard Spiva, a Savannah attorney who specializes in trucking litigation.

This current $2 billion project would require six months to a year of construction, about 10,000 trucks per month carrying construction materials to the site, using main roads like Abercorn and the Truman Parkway.

But Kinder Morgan says that number is a worst-case scenario they had to give the federal government.

"We are looking at alternate modes of transportation, so if you have products and equipment coming into the terminal, it might be far less than that amount of trucks. They could come in by barge, for example," said Director of Corporate Communications Richard Whatley.

The majority of those trucks will be hauling fill dirt and equipment, but activists say that's not the biggest concern.

"Then there's going to be these very dangerous-type chemicals being brought in for the refrigeration process. If they get into an accident, or whatever, and it spills over, some of those chemicals are lethal," said Bergen.

Kinder Morgan says they have emergency plans in place, but some take issue
with the fact that those plans have been filed as classified and aren't openly accessible.

According to Kinder Morgan, the project would also create 100 permanent jobs and generate more than $10 million in additional tax revenue every year. But that doesn't change the minds of many now.

"In my opinion, we have five potential bombs out there. If any one of them breaks and goes, and we have a cascade effect that makes the next one, and the next one, and the next one. We'll have a fire that can't be put out," said Bergen.

The proposal is still in the permitting phase with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, so it isn't a done deal yet. But if it is approved, Kinder Morgan expects the plant to start the new operations sometime in 2018.

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