Saturday, January 02, 2010

The tangled energy web we've woven defies logic -- and common sense

There is mounting Western concern that Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation, is becoming an al-Qaeda haven. Yet, three weeks after a Yemen-trained terrorists' attempted Christmas-Day airline bombing was narrowly averted, Boston Harbor is scheduled to receive its first shipment of liquefied natural gas from Yemen.

Is there a stronger national security argument for why we need to develop our indigenous renewable energy resources -- and to do so as quickly as possible? Massachusetts depends on natural gas to meet over 40% of its energy needs. It has been over nine years since the developers of Cape Wind -- the nation's first proposed offshore windfarm -- began their permitting process.

Opponents of this important project continue to raise frivolous concerns about the construction of 130 turbines with an installed capacity of 454 megawatts. Land-based wind projects in Massachusetts are also facing stiff opposition -- primarily because of their visual impacts.

Meanwhile we will spend more money on security to guard against a possible terrorists who may have been been trained with the money Boston spends for Yemen's natural gas.

By the way, did I mention that Massachusetts coastal communities (including Boston, Cape Cod and the Islands) are extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels? That's another little problem that increased support for renewable energy sources (along with efficiency and conservation) will help address.

We have to connect the dots and get on with the Design Science Decade.

Yemen gas shipments to Boston stir worry

Terror cited; Coast Guard examines tanker security

By Donovan Slack, Andrea Estes, and Jonathan Saltzman
Boston Globe
December 31, 2009

Shipments of liquefied natural gas from Yemen are scheduled to arrive for the first time in Boston Harbor in February, prompting a review of tanker security by the US Coast Guard that has intensified since a passenger with links to Al Qaeda in Yemen tried to blow up a US airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day.

Coast Guard officials in Boston say they have not decided yet if the shipments will be allowed to enter the harbor and dock at the LNG terminal in Everett.

“We’re going to take as long as we need to to look at this,’’ Coast Guard spokesman Jeff Hall said yesterday. “Schedules might have to be flexed. Our most important goal here in the Port of Boston is keeping the port safe, keeping mariners safe.’’

Some Massachusetts officials are still unsettled by the prospect of allowing such large quantities of flammable gas so close to the densely populated metropolitan area, particularly when it comes directly from a country now identified as a suspected stronghold of Al Qaeda. Past studies have shown that a liquefied natural gas leak in Boston Harbor could catch fire and even explode, threatening people more than three-quarters of a mile away.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, whose hometown, Winthrop, abuts Boston Harbor, called the imminent arrival of ships from Yemen “a matter of grave concern for Boston Harbor communities.’’

“We will look to state, local, and federal public safety authorities to do everything in their power to ensure the safety of this process,’’ DeLeo said.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is also “very concerned about it,’’ said spokeswoman Dot Joyce.

“The mayor has always been concerned with LNG tankers’ passage through our harbor, and he will continue to push for them to be unloaded offshore, away from densely populated areas,’’ Joyce said. She added that the city’s public safety officials are working with the Coast Guard to make sure that the shipments, if they are allowed into the harbor, will be secure.

It was not clear yesterday where the ships would go if turned away from Boston.

The officials said their concerns have deepened since the attack last week, when a 23-year-old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attempted to ignite explosive powder on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. A group linked to Al Qaeda in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack. This week, President Obama said there had been a “systemic failure’’ of the nation’s security apparatus.

US Representative Edward J. Markey, whose district includes the LNG terminal in Everett, said the Coast Guard has put in place some security measures but that more may have to be considered.

“In light of the foiled attack on the airliner in Detroit, these security policies should now be revisited to ensure the most stringent security is put in place, so that these shipments are safe and secure,’’ he said.

A spokeswoman for Distrigas of Massachusetts, which is responsible for the shipments, said the company has a “robust security regime’’ in place and that Coast Guard officials have visited the facility in Yemen where the shipments will originate.

“Safety and security has always been a primary focus of Distrigas,’’ spokeswoman Carol Churchill said.

Distrigas’s parent company, GDF Suez Energy North America, arranged for the Yemeni shipments in 2005, when the company signed an agreement to import 2.5 million tons annually over 20 years, with a significant portion of the shipments destined for Massachusetts. The tanker scheduled to arrive in February is the first shipment to Boston under the agreement, Churchill said. Currently, shipments come from Trinidad and Egypt. In the past, they have originated in Abu Dhabi, Australia, and Algeria.

As part of the new agreement, Churchill said, the company built a new terminal in Balhaf, Yemen, where the gas will be loaded on the tankers bound for Massachusetts.

“It’s a state-of-the-art facility, one of the safest facilities in the world,’’ Churchill said. “The terminal is in full compliance with the international ship and port facility security code. The code is based on US standards and establishes, basically, port security protocol so that wherever you go, you’re assured there’s consistency with respect to those protocols.’’

State officials who have been working with the Coast Guard and Distrigas on the scheduled shipments say they expressed their concerns about the explosive cargos coming from Yemen.

“Our concerns were real, I like to think extensive,’’ said Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke. “At this stage, they met those concerns.’’

National security officials have said in the past that Boston was a “logistical hub’’ for Al Qaeda before the 2001 attacks at the World Trade Center in New York. They have also said that as many as a dozen Al Qaeda operatives had entered the nation at various times by stowing away on LNG tankers.

Former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke wrote in a 2004 memoir that national security officials had “learned that Al Qaeda operatives had been infiltrating Boston by coming in on liquid natural gas tankers from Algeria.’’

Clarke’s former assistant, Roger Cressey, said yesterday that tankers from Yemen pose no greater risk than those from other countries, as long as ironclad security measures are in place to make the ships invulnerable to terrorists.

“The crew must be screened properly before the tanker reaches Boston and to ensure that there is nobody on the tanker who shouldn’t be there,’’ said Cressey. “The good news is Boston, Massport, the Coast Guard, and the Department of Homeland Security have had nine years of experience in coming up with policies and protocols to deal with LNG tankers when they come in.’’

Cressey said federal protocol calls for boarding and inspecting the tankers offshore.

“There is no reason to be any more concerned about tankers from Yemen than from Liberia or Algeria; I think that’s the key point,’’ he said. “It’s the background checks of the crews. It is boarding the tankers and physically searching them, and, of course, it’s relying on the intelligence community to identify any potential concerns with any tanker before it reaches the US coast.’’

Slack can be reached at; Estes at; and Saltzman at


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