By Don C. Brunell
Hopefully, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) will receive final permit approval so it can complete its Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant currently under construction on the Tacoma’s Tide Flats.
For background, LNG is natural gas chilled to a liquid state, (-260° Fahrenheit), for shipping and storage. The volume of natural gas in its liquid state is about 600 times smaller than in its gaseous state. The comparison is similar to condensing air in a beach ball to a ping-pong ball.
In its liquid state, LNG is not explosive. If spilled on land or water, it vaporizes and leaves no residue behind. During LNG processing many greenhouse gases (GHG), such as CO2 and methane, are removed. So are traces of mercury.
Most cargo ships today run on diesel or bunker fuel. The Port of Tacoma’s most recent emissions inventory showed that, while ship-related emissions have dropped, they still accounted for 63 percent of the maritime-related diesel particulate matter emissions.
Switching to LNG is imperative to further cut GHG levels.
TOTE Puerto Rico Maritime already has two LNG-powered containerships sailing between Jacksonville, Florida, and San Juan. The ships are designed to roll cargo on and off without large gantries. They were key to supplying essentials to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma ravaged the island in September 2017.
TOTE Alaska Maritime, headquartered in Federal Way, intends to use the same type of ships to ferry cargo between Tacoma and Anchorage. In total, TOTE hauls a third of Alaska’s goods. PSE’s facility, when finished, will supply fuel to TOTE’s ships.
“These vessels are the most advanced, environmentally responsible vessels of their kind – reducing particulate matter by 99 percent, vessel sulfur emissions by 98 percent, nitrogen oxides by 91 percent and CO2 by 35 percent,” TOTE reports.
They surpass international shipping regulations, which require ships traveling within 200 miles of shore to use low-sulfur fuel. TOTE’s entire trip between Tacoma and Alaska falls within this North American Emissions Control Area.
Puget Sound Energy’s LNG facility will not only supply fuel to TOTE’s ships, but will provide natural gas to residential and commercial customers during peak cold weather demands. About six million of the eight million gallons produced in Tacoma will be set aside to provide natural gas to local customers.
That LNG reserve also provides a backup supply of natural gas – a need that was dramatically underscored last October with the explosion of a Canadian natural gas pipeline that reduced flows of natural gas to both British Columbia and Washington State, the Vancouver and BC Business Journal reported.
PSE’s Tacoma facility is small considering massive plants being constructed along the Gulf Coast and on Australia’s west coast. It is similar to Connecticut’s Yankee Gas plant that has operated safely since 2008. It is being built by the same contractors; however, it is smaller and not large enough to produce exportable LNG.
Switching to LNG is important to reduce air contamination especially while ships are docked. Many ports are not equipped with shore-side electrical cables that allow ships to hook up and turn off their engines. Many seaports are located in cities with already high GHG concentrations
Making the fuel switch is important because 90 percent of the world trade is carried by ships. Hellenic Shipping News, reports. Shipping represents 2.5 to 3.5 percent of global CO2 emissions.
The main causes of an increase in GHG emissions from ships are due to the growing demand for shipping to support international trade and the challenges with switching to lower-carbon fuels.
Projects, such as PSE is constructing, are essential to both our environment and economy. It’s simply time to finish the project.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.