Energy Siting Board Hearing Airs Disputes Over Risk, Impact of Propane Storage Plan for Port of Providence
January 21, 2022
WARWICK, R.I. — Lawyers for both sides recently got a chance to debate the disputes surrounding Sea 3 Providence LLC’s proposal to add six 90,000-gallon propane tanks to a vacant lot adjacent to its Port of Providence facility.
Sea 3 Providence presented eight witnesses for questioning by lawyers Jan. 18 and 19 during an evidentiary hearing before the state’s Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB).
“The purpose behind these questions is to ask what the facility is analyzing when they are talking about risk and impact,” said Allison Hoffman, of the state attorney general’s office. “… what I’m trying to understand is [whether] the vulnerability of the underlying community is a factor.”
Sea 3 Providence, a subsidiary of Blackline Mainstream LLC, has proposed adding six 90,000-gallon liquid propane gas, also called liquefied petroleum gas, (LPG) tanks to a vacant lot next to its existing facility at 25 Fields Point Drive. The facility hosts a 19-million-gallon cold-storage tank, and the proposed expansion would connect the facility to a rail line allowing train deliveries to supplement marine shipments of LPG.
During an oral argument hearing in July, the EFSB determined there were several factual disputes in the case. EFSB chairman Ronald Gerwatowski ordered the applicants and intervenors to prepare for an evidentiary hearing and file testimony on the factual issues of the case.
Sea 3 filed a petition in March of last year seeking to bypass the EFSB’s full application process, arguing in its petition that the proposed project “is not an alteration such that full major facility review is necessary.”
The Conservation Law Foundation, city of Providence, Rhode Island attorney general and the People’s Port Authority made motions to intervene. In an objection dated May 7, 2021, Attorney General Peter Neronha wrote, “The proposed increase in operations is significant, and raises serious concerns about the cumulative addition of harmful air emissions associated with increased truck traffic in an environmental justice community already overburdened by pollution, and other serious public health concerns and safety concerns related to rail transport and storage of LPG.”
Sea 3 officials pushed back against the risk to nearby neighborhoods.
“What matters most to communities is [LPG] supply and price stability, and that’s what the project accomplishes,” said Willie Willis, vice president of operations and projects at Blackline Midstream.
Witnesses for Sea 3 downplayed the risk of accidents, from LPG or increased train and truck shipments. Railroad engineer Jonathan Shute said train accidents would be “as rare as meteorites,” given that train speeds going into the port will max out at 10 mph.
Nicholas Vaz, co-counsel from the attorney general’s office, noted several meteorites fall to earth daily. “Sometimes things aren’t as rare as they are being discounted,” he said.
The waterfront site has hosted an LPG facility since 1975, but operations stopped under previous owners in 2015. Blackline Midstream bought the parcel in 2018, commencing LPG operations the following year.
“These railcar shipments are essential to meet projected demand for LPG over the next decade in the state and the region,” Willis said. Sea 3 estimates it could expand its capacity to 100 million gallons annually with rail shipments.
But intervenors doubted the projected demand.
“By the time we get to 2050, we can’t use LPG,” said James Crowley of the Conservation Law Foundation. “The state is going to have to figure out how to get a carbon neutral heat source by 2050.”
The EFSB heard from eight out of 12 witnesses by the end of the scheduled two-day hearing. Gerwatowski said the board would schedule a third and possibly fourth day to continue the hearing, with no date yet scheduled for a final ruling.