Unknown to many islanders, we are living within a possible blast zone emanating from the Port of Tacoma. There, on the tide flats of the estuary, positioned over a seismic fault and on land that The Medicine Creek Treaty promised in perpetuity to the Puyallup Tribe, Puget Sound Energy is constructing an 8-million gallon tank with the goal of filling it with liquid natural gas (LNG).
PSE did not have permits when they began construction but nonetheless moved forward with building this behemoth while pursuing permits. They still are not fully permitted yet have not slowed in their push to build.
There are multitudes of reasons this facility is a terribly dangerous idea, starting with its climate impact. It’s clear that investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure at this juncture is a horrendously misguided choice. While “natural” gas burns cleaner, it is made up of methane, a greenhouse gas with 86 times more climate impact than carbon dioxide. Even small leaks anywhere in the life cycle of the gas, from extraction to burning, have a profound impact on climate, and research in British Columbia has shown that the amount of leakage coming from wells has been grossly underreported.
“Natural” gas is anything but. A full 67% of “natural” gas comes from fracking, an extremely destructive process whereby chemically infused water is shot deep into the bedrock to fracture (thus the term) and loosen the gas from layers of shale. The chemicals in the water are so toxic, no remediation could make the water safe again. The disturbance has created small earthquakes, and chemicals and gas often enter the water table, coming out in tap-water of local communities; people have lit matches to ignite water coming out of their tap. The gas for the Tacoma LNG plant would come from fracking wells in British Columbia.
To store fracked gas, it must be liquified by condensing it under extreme freezing pressure. If the liquid leaks, it increases in volume by 600 times and could easily combust. We have a huge bomb ready to explode if any of several different scenarios were to unfold, such as an extended power outage where backup power was compromised, an earthquake where the fill the plant sits on would liquify, or sea level rise, which is predicted to happen in that locale during the lifetime of the plant.
The facility is being built on the ancestral lands of the Puyallup tribe, who are vehemently opposed to it and have not been consulted. The Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854, signed between the U.S. government and many local tribes, including the Puyallup, was said to be the “supreme law of the land.” In the treaty, fishing and hunting rights of the tribe were guaranteed to be honored forever. Though construction is on land just outside the boundaries of the reservation, this is only because that land was not there when the treaty was drawn up; it is fill. The Puyallup have a legal claim to the land in addition to the obvious moral and ethical claim. Their voices have been ignored.
All this for what purpose? The stated goal is to fuel two ships making trips to Alaska. New regulations call for ships to reduce emissions; adding scrubbers to their stacks or using lower sulfur fuel can accomplish this. LNG burns cleaner, which is the justification for its use, though the entire life cycle of the fuel is dirty and destructive. PSE also claims that it is needed for backup for extremely cold winter days. However, renewables are more available by the day, their price decreasing sharply, and tying ourselves into decades of fossil fuel infrastructure is the opposite direction we need to move.
We Vashonites are PSE ratepayers. The final insult of this project is that they are planning to pass the buck to us. Though we may see 2% of our power come from this plant in the coming years, they are sticking us with 45% of the bill. Yes, the rate payers will be paying for this atrocity that we don’t want.
The fight is not over, though. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) just issued a preliminary permit, and we have a month to comment on that. There will be a public hearing from 2 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, at the Rialto Theater in Tacoma. You can make an online comment at PSCAA’s website. The Sierra Club and Advocates for a Cleaner Tacoma are suing the Department of Ecology and the Tacoma City Council, so this may be settled in court.
The Vashon Climate Action Group is hosting a fundraiser next Sunday, Aug. 4, at 8624 SW Soper Rd. to raise funds for the lawsuit. There will be live music, a live auction and a delicious luncheon provided. Please come and give what you can.
— Suzanne Greenberg is on the leadership team of the Vashon Climate Action Group and heads the NO LNG team.