Canada

A very explosive subject

DAVID FOLSTER October 17 1977
Canada

A very explosive subject

DAVID FOLSTER October 17 1977

A very explosive subject

NEW BRUNSWICK

The Bay of Fundy is noted for high tides, unpredictable weather, sometimes heavy seas and fogs that come on like vichyssoise—hardly ideal waters for ships carrying a volatile cargo. Nevertheless, by the early 1980s supertankers could be sailing the bay laden with liquefied natural gas (LNG), a cargo with, in the case of a collision or other unforeseen disaster, an enormous potential for destruction. Tankers would unload over a billion cubic feet of pressurized, extremely flammable LNG a day at Tiner Point, a scant 10 miles from

Saint John, New Brunswick. It is a prospect that alarms many residents. Says Connie Long, member of a local group called Citizens Against LNG: “If there was a serious leak, the vapor cloud could be blown over Saint John where any source of ignition could touch it off. There would be a horrendous explosion.”

Hazards aside, the LNG issue is assuming enormous dimensions as it strips bare some glossed-over regional jealousies— within the Maritime region and between those provinces and Quebec—and raises suspicions that Americans are foisting an undesirable industry onto Canadians.

The LNG project is the conception of several companies, led by large Houstonbased Tenneco Inc. which has a 20-year commitment of natural gas supply from Algeria. Under Tenneco’s plan, the liquefied gas would be re-vaporized at Tiner

Point, then the bulk of it would be piped off to the eastern United States. The appeal of the project to the New Brunswick government, which strongly supports it, is jobs and money. Total investment for the dock, the gas conversion plant, and the Canadian portion of the pipeline is estimated at more than $700 million, and at the height of construction 1,650 workers would be needed.

The question that arises, however, is why Tenneco has chosen a landing site so far from its market. Opponents point to strong environmental opposition south of the border. The U.S. Federal Power Commission has in fact declared that sites in both Maine and Rhode Island would be cheaper and safer than Saint John. But in Newport, R.I., the city council immediately opposed the project. Says Mayor Humphrey Donnelly: “I just don’t think it would be worth it.”

LNG technology cools natural gas and compresses it to as little as 1 /600 of its original volume to make it more portable. Critics of the sytem point out that in the case of a leak, LNG escaping under pressure would rapidly turn back into vapor. Then, they say, a cloud of gas could roll over a populated area where its ignition by any open flame—even a spark—could cause widespread devastation.

Still, the project is regarded as such a plum down East that last month the Nova Scotia government, setting aside all pretense of Maritime economic cooperation, intervened in National Energy Board (NEB) hearings which are continuing in Saint John. Its aim: to lure Tenneco to the Strait of Canso instead, to help ease Cape Breton’s serious unemployment problems. New Brunswick’s angered Premier Richard Hatfield protested Nova Scotia’s “unwarranted” interference and accused Nova Scotia’s Gerald Regan of reviving “the policy of cut-throat competition.” Then even more surprisingly, Quebec got into the competition by suggesting a St. Lawrence River site at Lauzon, downriver from Quebec City. The Parti Québécois government seems as anxious as anybody to land the project.

Even the prestigious Atlantic Provinces

Economic Council, which supports the general concept, has questioned the longterm benefits of the Tenneco project to Canadians. With the promise of only about 100 permanent jobs, and few other guarantees for this country, APEC concluded the project’s value “is very temporary and can potentially engender more social costs than economic benefits.” As the NEB hearings continued, the Citizens Against LNG cause was joined by local fishermen who feared their deteriorating grounds would be wiped out by the Tenneco project. Charged David Thompson, member of a seven-generation fishing family: “It’s

more than a loss of income (for fishermen). It’s an infringement of their rights to their heritage and to pursue the kind of life they want.” DAVID FOLSTER