Potential Risks of LPG Transport at Sea 3 Facility the Focus of Closing Arguments Before EFSB
South Providence and Washington Park residents have long expressed concerns about health and safety impacts from nearby port activities
April 8, 2022
WARWICK, R.I. — Expanding Sea 3 Providence LLC’s liquid propane gas (LPG) operations in the Port of Providence, linking it to rail access and adding six 90,000-gallon storage tanks would pose health and safety risks to the neighborhoods around the port, according to intervenors opposed to the fossil fuel project.
Lawyers from Sea 3’s parent company, Blackline Midstream LLC, Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office, the city of Providence and the Conservation Law Foundation gave closing arguments on the proposal last week before the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB).
Sea 3 attorney Nicholas Hemond argued the proposed rail expansion did not increase the risk of accident when transporting LPG and therefore did not fall under EFSB jurisdiction.
“Every aspect of safety, every aspect of prevention, everything we can do to make this safe and as efficient as possible we have shown you is what we intend to do,” Hemond said.
Intervenors argued the risk impact would be anything but minimal.
“We heard it again, it’s just an increase of 4 percent,” said Allison Hoffman, co-counsel from the attorney general’s office. “But that increase consists of [540,000] gallons of hazardous material, which significantly increases the risk calculation.”
The Sea 3 site at the Port of Providence has proven controversial since the return of LPG deliveries by ship. The 10-acre facility receives LPG, also called liquefied petroleum gas, from pressurized ships and converts it into propane for home heating and generators. The terminal has received shipments to its 19-million-gallon storage tank since 1971, with a brief hiatus from 2016 to 2019, when Sea 3 bought the facility.
According to the proposal, Sea 3 would build the six additional propane storage tanks on a vacant lot next to the facility, 25 Fields Point Drive in Providence. The expansion would also connect the site to a rail spur, to allow for shipments by train.
Sea 3 petitioned for a declaratory order from the EFSB last year, arguing it didn’t need a full application or review by the three-person board because the additions don’t constitute an “alteration to a major energy facility.”
“The evidence that has been presented demonstrates that this project is more of the same,” Hemond said. “More of the same equipment, more of the same risks we have to control for, more of the same manner in which we will do it; it’s just a different way of getting the product here.”
EFSB solicited public comment and heard oral arguments for the petition in July, when the board determined there were several facts at dispute in the case. Chairman Ron Gerwatowski ordered the applicants and intervenors to prepare for a series of evidentiary hearings, which were delayed by COVID. The board has heard from witnesses on both sides of the case across five meetings since January.
Residents in South Providence and Washington Park have long expressed concerns about the health and safety impacts from nearby port activities. Monica Huertas, a Washington Park resident and director of the People’s Port Authority, testified that three out of her four children have asthma, something she attributed to living near the port’s polluting industries.
“One of my children had seven hospitalizations in the course of one year,” Huertas said. “This is the same thing my neighbors all across the South Side and Washington Park are experiencing.”
Both sides remained split on what a worst-case accident might look like in the port.
“The worst-case scenario is an explosion causing a cascading event, setting off multiple explosions,” Providence Emergency Management Agency director Clara Decerbo said.
Sea 3 contended the worst-case scenario would be a forcible blast within a less than half-mile radius.
“Not an inferno, not a fire spread across a half-mile area … it is a blast that would shatter windows. Certainly a dangerous situation, but that’s what information shows you,” Hemond said.
The city of Providence has moved to limit the port’s expansion. The City Council passed a resolution in December calling on the EFSB to deny Sea 3’s petition. In January, the council voted on the second passage of an ordinance that prohibits LPG storage within city limits.
Sea 3’s Port of Providence facility remains grandfathered in under new laws, and the city has said it won’t enforce the new zoning laws against the LPG site. Sea 3 has engaged in litigation against the city for the new LPG limits imposed.
The EFSB will put the Sea 3 proposal on the docket for a public meeting, with a final decision on jurisdiction expected to be issued later this year.