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|More Questions About Large Propane Tank, Some Answers|
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Searsport Votes on Tank March 10
Liquified Petroleum Gas Terminal Moratorium will be voted on at the
annual Searsport Town Meeting on Saturday, March 10, at the Searsport
High School, 24 Mortland Road, Searsport. The town meeting begins at 9
The warrant article begins . . .
ARTICLE 40. To see if the Town will vote to approve a Liquefied Petroleum Gas Terminal Moratorium . . .
moratorium, if passed, would not allow permit approval for an LPG
terminal or storage for 180 days (retroactive to November 23, 2011) and
would establish a review committee to assess existing land use
ordinances to determine if they protect the "health, safety and welfare
of the citizens of Searsport." Any proposed ordinance changes would go
before voters. Selectmen would have the power to extend the moratorium
for up to an additional year.
by Christine Parrish
Midstream, a Colorado-based company that is one of the largest propane
brokers in the U.S., is planning to build one of the largest propane
storage tanks in the county at the industrial zone at Mack Point in
It is not going smoothly.
On Saturday, March
10, residents will get the chance to vote on a moratorium that would
temporarily halt the town permit for the DCP Midstream development and
would allow a citizen committee to review existing municipal codes to
see if the "public health, safety, and welfare" is protected. That could
take a long time. Searsport is not historically known for consensus
when it comes to land use issues.
In Searsport, DCP Midstream has
hired 10 part-time canvassers to go door-to-door to talk to residents
about why it is important to defeat the moratorium, according to DCP
spokesperson Rosslyn Elliot.
Several surrounding municipalities,
including neighboring Belfast and Stockton Springs, have recently
weighed in by officially expressing concern to the Army Corps of
Engineers that the regional economic and environmental impacts of the
proposed development be more thoroughly assessed before Army Corps
approval is granted.
The Army Corps permit to DCP Midstream is pending.
the economic impact study just completed by University of Maine
economist Charlie Colgan may shed light on what impact the development
would have on tourism, property values, town infrastructure and town
revenue. The report will be made public this week.
about the propane tank range from visual effects to whether it will blow
up like an atom bomb to how local road conditions would be affected by
increased truck traffic.
The visual impact is real. Unlike the
rest of the waterfront industrial zone, the tank will be visible from
Route 1 and, due to its height (138 feet), will be more visible to the
surrounding area than the existing tanks at Mack Point. Questions about
the sound impact and how visible the lights and flare for the tank will
be are also being raised.
For its part, DCP Midstream chose the
site because of access to the marine port, railroad and truck routes.
According to Elliot, they expected little opposition to a development in
an existing industrial zone where fuel storage is well established. The
DCP plan for the 23-acre site includes the 22.7-million-gallon
insulated propane storage tank, an additional 90,000- gallon propane
tank for on-site use and two 1,000-gallon tanks to store the stinky
chemical methyl mercaptan, which is added to propane so a leak can be
detected by smell. The site will also have a 640-gallon diesel tank to
power an emergency generator, an emergency fire-water pump with a
280-gallon diesel tank, and two large buildings that will stand 20 feet
It will be a short distance from the Irving fuel tank
farm, the General Alum Chemical plant and Sprague Energy. DCP plans to
offload propane to the storage tank via a pipeline from tankers that
berth at the Sprague marine terminal.
Some are concerned that the propane tanks could blow up, as tanks have been known to do.
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an international
organization that develops scientifically based safety standards, has a
set of U.S. LPG codes (NFPA 58) that legally guide propane storage and
delivery. (LPG, often referred to interchangeably with propane, is
predominantly propane but includes ethane and butane.)
The LPG codes were updated for 2011.
Denise Beach, the NFPA senior engineer for the LPG codes, explained the NFPA role.
"We do the technical end," said Beach. "We don't have anything to do with enforcement. That would be state-
level enforcement and there might also be additional local fire codes."
Beach noted that the local fire department would usually be involved in oversight.
She also demystified the process of how a propane tank can blow up and under what circumstances that can occur.
is a liquid inside a storage tank, whether that is a hot-dog-shaped
silver cylinder behind a restaurant or a bulk dome-shaped tank, like the
one proposed at Mack Point.
Liquid propane is not flammable,
nor is it explosive. It must be vaporized into a gas with the right
combination of propane and oxygen to ignite.
that a boiling liquid expanded vapor explosion (BLEVE) can occur when
the welded seams of a propane tank fail. This happens either when a fire
is already ignited in the area (either because there was a gas leak or
from some other cause) and is impinging on the tank, or if the tank is
corroding and the metal fails, allowing a liquid gas leak that mixes
with enough air to form an ignitable gas.
She used the typical silver cylinder tank behind a burning restaurant as an example.
builds up inside the tank as a result of the heat on the outside, and
the pressure relief valve, which all propane tanks have, can't handle
the increased pressure fast enough," said Beach.
The welded seam
fails and the now highly pressurized propane has enough oxygen to ignite
in an explosive blast that can send shrapnel out into the area.
is not a bomb," said Beach, meaning that the tank cannot explode
without provocation or be tripped like an explosive device. "It is a
violent rupture in the tank that creates a flammable environment where
the fire ignites the vapor cloud," said Beach.
Excess heat is key
to creating a BLEVE, she said, and it is not unique to propane. A BLEVE
can happen with other fuels and is more of a concern on older fuel
storage tanks, since tank safety codes are updated regularly based on
the latest research and technology. Newer tanks are likely to be the
safest available, which does raise the question: how old and how safe
are the other storage tanks at Mack Point?
Beach explained the difference between the silver cylinder tank and the one DCP Midstream is proposing.
is not the same type tank at all," said Beach, who was not personally
aware of the Searsport proposal, but was familiar with the type of tank
proposed. The DCP tank would be insulated, double-walled and
refrigerated. The large size of the tank makes it safer because the
volume of liquid inside would be extraordinarily difficult to heat to
boiling, according to Beach.
"First, a fire would have to already
be going on in the area for a long time with no steps to put it out,
and second, there would have to be no one present or no water available
to cool the tank," said Beach.
According to the Maine Department
of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit for DCP Midstream, which was
approved last year, an emergency flare will be used to relieve internal
tank pressure "during any situation resulting in the loss of
refrigeration for the LPG storage tank," which could occur as a result
of an extended power outage.
The flare is, in essence, a backup pressure-relief valve.
propane industry has a good safety record overall and it continues to
grow stronger as more safety measures are put in place, according to
As to the existing tanks at Mack Point, she couldn't say.
The proximity of the propane tank to the other hazardous materials at
Mack Point is regulated under NFPA 58.
Beach said other NFPA
codes aim to be consistent with NFPA 58 regarding setback distances and
safety requirements, but she couldn't speak about other codes with any
"NFPA 58 is my area of expertise," she said,
recommending that the full picture on the other materials stored at Mack
Point would be available from experts working with the appropriate NFPA
Who Oversees the Development and Operation?
pointed to the heart of the safety matter. There appears to be no
single entity who has oversight for the big picture of the waterfront
Everyone has a piece.
The Maine Fuel
Board is the agency that issues the gas storage tank permit to construct
the facility. Permit approval requires a Fire Safety Analysis and a
site inspection before and after construction, and prior to the tank
going into service, to be sure that it meets the requirements of NFPA
58, according to Peter Holmes, a senior inspector at the Maine Fuel
The Fire Safety Analysis includes an analysis of existing
hazards in the area as well as potential hazards to off-site properties
and persons affected by the proposed development; assessment of the
distance between hazards and whether they meet standards; and the
evaluation of the capabilities of local emergency response.
follows an accepted format, according to Holmes, and would likely be
conducted by an engineering firm or other contractor hired by DCP
"There are no annual inspections required by the Fuel
Board, but there are requirements for continuing inspections of parts of
the system required by NFPA 58," said Holmes. The inspections are the
responsibility of DCP Midstream.
Holmes said Maine DOT would not
be involved in LPG tank monitoring, but would be involved in inspecting
LPG truck and transportation safety.
Other agencies have jurisdiction over other pieces of the puzzle.
Emergency Management Director Bud Rivers said the following regulatory
enforcement activities apply to the industrial zone at Mack Point and
The U.S. Coast Guard does annual compliance
inspections for marine facilities; the Maine DEP conducts annual
inspections and responds to spills (both actual and suspected) and takes
enforcement action when necessary; the Federal Railroad Administration
enforces rail safety requirements; and the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA), which enforces worker safety, may perform
inspections when a report occurs or someone registers a complaint or
raises a question about safety conditions.
Employees who operate
the DCP Midstream facility must be licensed by the state as Propane and
Natural Gas Technicians and Plant Operators.
It is a long list
of who is responsible for what, but licensing and regulations are one
thing and oversight of the whole industrial zone is another.
leaves open a question much larger than the DCP Midstream development
proposal: who, if anyone, is authorized to do periodic inspections of
the propane facility or the waterfront industrial zone as a whole on
behalf of public safety or public health concerns?
Mack Point and
Kidder Point are home to a number of hazardous materials that are
environmentally toxic, and dozens of HazMat spill incidents of varying
quantities at the industrial zone have been reported to the DEP for the
past 30 years. Some spills were a couple of gallons; others were over
1,000 gallons and required HazMat disposal. At least one spill at GAC
was the result of corroded equipment, according to the DEP filing. Some
spills came to the notice of the town, but there appears to be no
requirement for the companies to inform the municipality.
Emergency Response: Ready or Not?
is the case with complicated questions such as these, they raise a new
set of questions: Would the town of Searsport have the legal authority,
either through municipal law or through the site permit granted to a
developer, to inspect the DCP facility or any other industrial
facilities in town?
Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert said
the planning board has not put such a condition on a developer in the
past nor have they considered doing so, but the planning board probably
has the authority to do so.
"We wouldn't enforce it. That would
be the code enforcement officer or someone else, but we could put it as a
condition of site approval," said Probert, noting that it would
probably bring up legal questions. He questioned who in town would have
the expertise to conduct a comprehensive inspection.
Typically, that kind of inspection would be hired out to experts, either at a cost to the town or the developer.
Manager James Gillway said he would review town laws to see if the
municipality currently had the authority to inspect industrial
Certainly, when it comes to emergencies in the
industrial zone, Searsport firefighters are well aware that the zone
poses unique hazards and are trained to handle them.
computer modeling of hazardous incidents and their predictive behavior
have recently been bought by the department. Bud Rivers said the
computer models will aid in responding to any events that occur in the
industrial zone by coordinating information including wind speed,
temperature, humidity, fuel source and fuel quantity to predict the
speed, direction and ferocity of a fire.
The fire department and
emergency management team also conduct drills for HazMat emergencies. A
coordinated drill will be conducted later this year with the cooperation
of GAC, according to Rivers.
But, it still leaves a lot of questions on the table.
has 34 on-call firefighters in a force that has not one full-time staff
person. When asked if DCP would provide their own emergency response or
provide additional resources to the local emergency response, Elliot
said the company had a strong safety record and confidence in the
ability of local emergency response teams to respond to any emergencies.
DCP Midstream proposal has brought the entire waterfront industrial
zone into focus, spawning more questions. Will there be a coordinated
safety plan with all the industrial facilities at Mack Point and Kidder
Point? What provisions are currently in place at Irving, Sprague and GAC
to address spills, fires and fumes? Are all chemical and storage tanks
up to current code? If not, how is that mitigated? What about truck
parking and handling procedures and distance requirements between
Regardless of whether a moratorium slows down
DCP's plans or not, questions about operations, oversight, and
coordinated safety at the waterfront industrial zone remain.
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