Updated regulations based on the reality of export facilities in the U.S. are long overdue, and PHMSA has neglected its responsibility to protect the workers and communities most vulnerable to the dangers created by an inadequately regulated industry.
The federal government’s regulations for the liquefied methane gas industry date back to 1980. Today, the US is the #1 exporter of gas in the world, and regulations still have not changed, despite ongoing and unfulfilled promises from PHMSA to do so.
In the rush to build gas export terminals, the federal government blithely assumed these facilities were no more hazardous than the terminals built to import gas. The regulations currently governing the industry are based on assumptions about import facilities, not export facilities, which deal with much higher-risk chemicals like ethane and propane, not just imported methane.
Additionally, in the past decade federal regulators have approved construction of export terminals based on the industry’s own safety calculations. These estimates have been criticized for understating risks, including the destructive potential of vapor cloud explosions. The Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) needs new regulations that account for the differences between gas import and export terminals and are based on accurate, contemporary information.
Transparency & Public Participation
On June 8, 2022, an explosion at an LNG export terminal in Freeport, Texas started a fire that burned for 40 minutes and sent a fireball 450 feet into the air. The June 2022 explosion was the fourth incident reported to PHMSA from the Freeport facility in three years, since the site first began exporting gas in 2019. After the explosion, residents were given little to no information about the cause of the explosion, the emergency response, what steps were taken to prevent it from happening again, or even the health or environmental impacts of the explosion on their community. This is not the first incident and will not be the last.
Freeport and communities like it across the Gulf Coast deserve answers about the dangers of accidents and explosions at gas export facilities, and federal regulators investigating the Freeport explosion owe the community an explanation. The Biden administration must hold a public meeting to explain PHMSA’s investigation and answer community members’ questions about the terminal explosions, the company’s decision to ignore signs of trouble in the days leading up to the explosion, and the corrective measures before the company is allowed to resume normal operations.
Although LNG explosions are not frequent, the threat of these high-consequence events that can cause mass destruction is ever-present. In addition to implementing new regulations, PHMSA needs to conduct a transparent safety review of all gas export terminals and issue meaningful penalties for violations.
The federal government—PHMSA and FERC—must also improve the emergency response planning process and increase transparency so communities understand the risks of exporting gas and can have input in how these disasters are addressed. In the aftermath of LNG emergencies and response, the impacted community must not be kept in the dark in the way the people of Freeport, Texas were.
Environmental JusticeThe Biden Administration’s failure to provide meaningful oversight, transparency, and accountability of LNG export facilities exacerbates the burdens gas export terminals impose on frontline and environmental justice communities, not only in Freeport but across the Gulf Coast.
BUSINESS AS USUALBoth the gas industry and the Biden administration know regulations are outdated and increase the risks of exporting gas, yet they refuse to act. PHMSA and the industry’s unwillingness to take safety concerns seriously exacerbates the inherent and unique risks that come with exporting gas, ultimately at the expense of workers and nearby communities.
Freeport LNG Video
It’s time for the federal government to act on:
Freeport LNG Blast Created 450-Feet-High Fireball, Report Shows
Published | July 2022