On March 9, 2016 at 1:04 a.m. a fireball exploded inside Mr. Gyros in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood. The blast leveled three businesses and sent nine firefighters to the hospital. Windows shattered throughout the neighborhood and buildings shook to their foundations for blocks around. The cause was a leak in an old Puget Sound Energy natural gas pipeline.
Now imagine a form of natural gas 600 times more concentrated sitting inside an 8 million gallon tank within a mile of several preschools and daycare centers. That’s exactly the situation at Puget Sound Energy’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facility under construction on the Puyallup River Tideflats.
On Wednesday, May 23, members of the Puyallup Tribe, along with a coalition of environmental groups, met at Chinook Landing Marina, across from the LNG plant, to launch a new awareness campaign called, “Are you in the blast zone?”
DANCING IN THE BLAST ZONE
With the huge LNG tank looming just across Hylebos Waterway in the background, the gathering formed a circle to pray and sing. Puyallup Water Warrior Teshay Firethunder and Puyallup Tribal Councilwoman Annette Bryan both danced as the circle sang the Puyallup Salmon Song. Afterward, three environmental allies explained the new campaign.
“This is an educational campaign to really let people know there is a blast zone and we’re all in it,” Nanette Reetz of Redefine Tacoma told the gathering.
Val Peaphon, also of Redefine Tacoma, announced the launch of a new website, www.FrackNo253.com, which explains the danger posed by a potential explosion. With graphics provided by the Puyallup Tribe, the website shows what areas would be most affected if the 8 million gallon liquefied natural gas tank were to explode.
“It is not the explosion like a stick of dynamite, but a giant fireball that will engulf everything around it,” the website explains.
Graphics from a Tacoma Fire Department study show most people within about half a mile will suffer lethal burns within 60 seconds. Within three-quarters of a mile, people will suffer second-degree burns. A plume of methane gas far above the level of “immediate danger to life and health” will be released into the atmosphere. As the cloud dissipates, nearly 2,000 people will be exposed to dangerously high levels of methane.
Perhaps the most alarming graphic shows several daycare centers and a preschool within a mile of the storage tank. An elementary school just a bit farther away is still easily within the plume of dangerous methane.
“You’re going to hear a lot about, ‘oh, this is fear mongering. You’re just trying to scare people,’” Twylia Dawn Westling of Civic Actions for the Salish Sea explained. “It’s not fear mongering. It’s actually making people aware of what the consequences are of those actions across this waterway.”
MEETING WITH CORPS OF ENGINEERS
Councilwoman Annette Bryan then spoke and announced that the Tribe had a consultation that same week with the new colonel of the Army Corps of Engineers.
“I reminded the Corps of Engineers in no uncertain terms that they have a federal trust responsibility to the Puyallup Tribe of Indians to help us protect our people and our homeland and our natural resources,” she said.
She encouraged everyone to continue putting pressure on the City of Tacoma to do its Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the plant. She also announced the completion of a new report by Sandia National Laboratories about the LNG plant.
She reminded the group the plant might be obsolete even before it’s completed since TOTE Maritime Shipping, which is to be the plant’s main customer, has pushed back to 2021 its deadline for refitting its ships to use liquefied natural gas.
“They may not ever use it for ships,” she said.
She thanked everyone for making comments to the Utilities and Transportation Commission, urging them to reconsider the information regarding PSE’s attempt to limit the company’s liability if the plant explodes.
She also announced that the Tribe has offered space in the Youth Center to the No LNG movement.
“We have a room prepared for the movement and we have meeting space available where we can gather and plan,” she said.
COUNTERING THE CORPORATE HYPE
In light of the $80,000-$90,000 PSE is spending every month on advertising regarding the new plant, the Tribe and its allies face a daunting task. Advertisements greenwash the plant, making it appear safe and environmentally friendly. The “Are you in the blast zone?” campaign will help boil this complex issue down to its most compelling element: the plant could blow up.
Considering the 2016 explosion at an LNG storage facility in Plymouth, Wash. that injured five and caused $69 million in damages, and the natural gas explosion that same year in Seattle that injured nine firefighters and destroyed three businesses, the need for fear of a disaster is real.
“I don’t care if people think that we’re fear mongers,” elder and former Tribal Council chairperson Ramona Bennett said at the end of the gathering. “I want to scare the living hell out of them.”