Public comments open for ferry LNG conversion proposal

WSF has formally submitted its proposal to the Coast Guard for converting six Issaquah Class ferries to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) propulsion. The public comment period is open until January 12, 2015.

If you have concerns about this proposal, please submit your comments as soon as possible: Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=USCG-2014-0935-0001 and click on the blue Comment Now! button.

From KOMO News:

SEATTLE — The U.S. Coast Guard commander who will make the final decision about a plan to convert some Washington State ferries to liquid natural gas fuel says he sees nothing at this point that would stop the plan.

But Captain Joe Raymond said he hasn’t made a final decision yet. A public comment period opened this week and runs to January 12.

His biggest issue: Is it safe?

“I think with the proper safeguards, it will be,” he told KOMO 4 News in an exclusive interview. “And that’s what this whole process is set up to do – is to make sure that we deliberately look at everything, hear everybody who has concerns.”

Such a conversion would be the first time ferries in the U.S. would switch from the diesel they burn now to cleaner, cheaper liquid natural gas.

The liquid natural gas would be stored in tanks on top beginning with the six Issaquah class ferries. The conversion would cost $75 million, but the ferry system would recoup that investment in just a decade with another 20 years of cost savings after that.”

The KOMO article soft-pedals the safety issue, instead stressing the promised cost savings and pointing out that LNG has been used for powering ships for several years “without a problem.” However, our readers may have seen our July guest post by WSF Chief Engineer Alex Zecha in which Mr. Zecha says that WSF’s risk assessment is flawed.

WSF’s claims that LNG is a proven, safe maritime fuel downplays the fact that its current proposal is to convert the six Issaquah Class ferries, which were designed to use diesel fuel, to LNG. These boats were built from 1979-1981, making them on average 34 years old. While WSF’s maintenance staff keeps our boats in very good running condition given their extreme budget restraints, no one expects these boats to run trouble-free. Conversion to LNG requires new fuel tanks, which would be placed on top of the boats (light green tanks in simulations below):

PVA01 PVA05

WSF’s proposal also does not address any environmental concerns about the production, transportation, and storage of LNG fuel. We published a guest post by Forest Shomer last year on these concerns: Guest Post: WSF and Liquid Natural Gas

If you have concerns about this proposal, please submit your comments as soon as possible: Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=USCG-2014-0935-0001 and click on the blue Comment Now! button.

Comments must be submitted to the online docket or reach the Docket Management Facility on or before January 12, 2015.

References:

Proposal: Letter of Recommendation for Washington State Ferries Liquefied Natural Gas Conversion; Seattle, WA

WSF LNG proposal page: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Ferries/Environment/LNG.htm

US Coast Guard Report (PDF): Guidance Related to Waterfront Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Facilities

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