I have struggled to describe how wrong Puget Sound Energy’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant is for both our community and for the planet. Not only will it create a potential blast zone that could cause massive damage for more than three miles around the plant, but it will pollute the air throughout the Puget Sound region. Globally, it will cause even more environmental harm. The fracking wells required to supply the natural gas to this plant will contaminate the ground water for hundreds if not thousands of square miles. The chemicals that the fracking process injects into the ground are known to cause cancer, disrupt the endocrine system, suppress immune responses, cause genetic mutations and cause reproductive problems. Increased earthquakes have also been identified as a result of fracking wells. The damage that this project will cause is so disproportionate to its size that it is hard to fathom. In order to supply two TOTE ships with LNG and create 16 jobs, PSE’s LNG refinery will contaminate an area about the size of Rhode Island with fracking wells.
The analogy that I frequently used in the past was to compare using fracked gas in the LNG plant to mining “blood diamond.” While watching the History Channel the other day, I came upon an even better comparison: gold mining. Originally gold mining was accomplished simply with a gold pan in a river. Then gold producers discovered that they could use mercury to process gold nuggets and black sand. The effects of mercury were not well understood at the time, and mercury turned out to be a silent killer. As even more efficient methods for mining were developed, the devastation of the natural surroundings was increased. Large sluice boxes have replaced the gold pans. Huge bulldozers, backhoes and hydraulic hoses have become the norm. The mercury contamination from the early years of mining, 1850-1960, has left large contaminated regions of the Earth, including large areas of the Amazon jungle. Large swaths of the Amazon are still being deforested due to the mining and the bioaccumulation of mercury in the fish has created toxic levels of mercury in humans.
Just like “mining for gold,” “fracking for natural gas” uses toxic processes that contaminate the environment. In both cases, the producers are willing to risk the health of those around the wells or mining sites in order to reap huge profits. In a recent sermon, my pastor used the word “atrocity” to describe these types of actions. I was so impressed with her words that I asked for a copy: “most people are too busy with their lives to notice how the powers of the world are committing atrocities against our fellow human beings. How they break laws to exploit our environment, how they enact unjust laws that are prejudiced against people of color and people living in poverty.”
Her words remind me that while we need to be concerned about the local impact of a possible fire or explosion from the 8-million gallon LNG storage tank, we also must consider the impact from the upstream fracking wells. Fracked natural gas affects us all because of the impact of leaking methane on climate change, but has an even more immediate harm to the people who live near those wells. Because these well are often sited in remote locations, those impacted include many Native Americans, as well as many people struggling with rural poverty. “Atrocity” is the right word to describe companies poisoning the air, land and water in order to reap a profit. Tacoma will be connected to the upstream site of these toxic atrocities. We will be connected by a six-inch metal pipe carrying the fracked gas to the LNG site. By approving the project, the City of Tacoma becomes a willing participant to the atrocities. What will each of us do to stop it?
Steven Storms has a bachelors degree in chemical engineering and was a licensed professional engineer (PE). He has nearly 40 years experience working in heavy industry with a good portion in the energy and environmental fields. He retired as the project director of process evaluation. He is also past chairman of the Puget Sound chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Currently he is vice president of Advocates for a Cleaner Tacoma, a member of Redefine Tacoma and a proud supporter of Native rights. He is a resident of Northeast Tacoma.