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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bethlehem Zoners Approve 98' High LNG Facility

LNG tank being built in Steelton
By a 4-0 vote, Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board granted UGI dimensional variances and a special exception last night for a 98' high, 78' wide liquefied natural gas facility. This tank,which has a 2 million gallon capacity, will be located in Bethlehem at 2470 Ringhoffer Road. That is an 84-acre tract of former Bethlehem Steel land, and is now part of Lehigh Valley Industrial Park.

This decision came at the end of three nights of testimony that first began in May. Allentown Attorney Tim Siegfried represented UGI.  Lower Saucon Township, upon which part of the Ringhoffer Road tract is located, was opposed. Environmental attorney Charles Elliot represented Lower Saucon. Attorney Kevin Kelleher acted as Solicitor to the Board  The members who voted for this project are Gus Loupos, Bill Fitzpatrick, Jim Schantz and Michael Santanasto. A fifth member, Linda Shay Gardner, was unable to participate.

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is cryogenically cooled natural gas which is liquefied to reduce the volume for shipping and storage. LNG is primarily methane, but can contain up to 10% ethane and propane. It is stored at a temperature of negative 260 degrees Farenheit.

The location along Ringhoffer Road was attractive to UGI for two reasons. First, it is located near a pipeline that will enable the company to deliver fuel after returning the methane to its gaseous state. Second, the facility would be located in a swale, affording some natural protection.

The 98' high tank is a triple-wall full containment tank. A stainless steel tank will be surrounded by insulation and then a second wall of steel that would be encased in concrete. "It's a big thermos bottle," explained UGI engineer Mike Mara.

The closest home is 662' away, and is vacant. The next two closest homes are 840'and 850' away.

The tank will be filled by 10,000 gallon tankers, each of them weighing over 44,000 pounds, traveling along Hellerotwn, Applebutter and Ringhoffer Roads. About five or six deliveries will be made daily over the course of several months until the tank is full. After that, the only time the tank will be accessed is during extremely cold weather. UGI officials will be widening Ringhoffer Road.

Employees will be on the site during deliveries or when gas is transferred to a pipeline. The rest of the time, the facility will be monitored from a gas control facility located in Reading. That gas control station will be able to detect leaks and dispatch technicians, or remotely shut down the plant.

No other use will be made of this 83-acre tract, which will be both buffered with landscaping and fenced to prevent easy access.

Dr. Ryan Hart, a consultant who assists in the investigation and analyses of fires and explosions, said the likelihood of a major incident is "very remote." In two hours of cross-examination, he placed the chance of a major problem occurring as once every 100 million years. He noted that LNG is heavy and the vapor cloud is not something that will rise up in the sky. He said that instead, it would hug the ground. He also said that LNG is inflammable and needs to mix with air before it becomes explosive.

Lower Saucon resident Virginia Oskin, who lives less than a mile from the proposed tower, said she was there for her family. She wondered whether the tank could ever explode as a result of an incident like a plane being crashed into it. He told her it is "not physically possible for that tank to just explode." It would have to mix with outside air first,and a lot of it,  before it became flammable.

Trenches will surround the tower for spills that may occur during loading or transfer to a pipeline.

Dr. Hart also testified that federal regulations require that if there is an incident, the blast zone must be limited to the property's borders.

Deputy Fire Chief Craig Baer is preparing an emergency action plan for the facility. It is still being formulated.

Arianne Elinich, who lives in Coopersburg about 6.5 miles away, was denied standing. But John Tallarico, who owns an old Bethlehem Steel slag bank and borders the proposed tank, supported the project.


Anonymous said...

Never a doubt. Money talks. So now Bethlehem has a potential massive explosion in its back yard. Things never ever go wrong with those things according to company paid experts.. No wonder the only real people watching it will be in Reading.

What a sad joke.

Anonymous said...

the sky is falling, the sky is falling

Anonymous said...

Money has nothing to do with this decision. This is the perfect spot for this, I bet you a million dollars If they came to build a steel plant on that land you would protest it. NIMBY

Anonymous said...

I know! Build a windfarm there.

Yeah, that's the ticket. No one would complain about that, and think of all of the several homes it would power!

Anonymous said...

Agreed with 7:28 here. This is a good spot for a project like this. Generally out of the way and reusing an industrial brownfield. We need energy infrastructure and it has to go somewhere. Better than using up more prime farmland or forest!

Anonymous said...

How far would a leak have to travel and mix with air to become combustible?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I am no chemical engineer. But a chemical engineer testified that the thermal impact of any explosion would not go beyond the property boundary.

Anonymous said...

Allentown had one of those gas towers for decades

Bernie O'Hare said...

Did not hear anything like that.

Anonymous said...

It was a gas storage tank around 3rd and Union.


They tore it down 10-15 years ago.

They are not quite the same because the old one stored gas and the new one will store liquefied gas. This is actually safer, since, as the expert said, it won't mix with air as readily. (The liquid and any evaporating cold gas is heavier than air, unlike natural gas at ambient temperature, which is lighter than air. For it to mix well, it will have to warm up first, which will take time.)

Anonymous said...

The worst industrial disaster in Staten Island (New York City)history took place 40 years ago when an explosion blew the concrete roof off a liquefied natural gas tank on the borough's northwest shore, killing 40 workers. ... If you believe this is not a safety issue for Bethlehem, go here: www.nytimes.com/.../43-workers-buried-in-huge-gas-tank-in-explosion-and-fire-on-stat...

Anonymous said...

you've got a bad link.

From this link:


This is how the workers died:

"The Texas Eastern Transmission Corp. tragedy drew a massive emergency response, but it was too late for those crushed when the roof fell down on them."

Looks to me like the tank didn't even have LNG in it at the time and the accident was a result of some sort of construction accident, and was restricted to the construction site. Not good, but...

Bernie O'Hare said...

As I posted in my first story in May, there have been several instances of catastrophic failure. These all occurred bc the metal used was substandard material and these were not triple layer tanks. But even in those matters, the tanks never exploded. In one instance, there was a leak and the LNG went into a sewer. It exploded when it vaporized and killed several people. This scenario is impossible here. There is no sewer drain. There is a trench, though, to collect LNG in the event of a leak. The BOARD, UGI, Bethlehem FD, and LST all gave this very careful scrutiny, as they should. I believe Dr. Hart was quite persuasive.

Anonymous said...

Who pays the consultant, Dr. Hart?

Anonymous said...

I guess we can only trust people that don't get paid.

Anonymous said...

It is sad that money can buy you anything, even other people's safety.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Dr. Hart was subjected to over two hours of cross-examination. If he was a paid whore, as is being suggested, he would have looked terrible. He looked pretty good. I am sure UGI paid for his time and expertise, but not for his opinion.

Anonymous said...

Amazing how company paid experts always end up saying that what the company wants to do is just wonderful. Everyone knows you love this Board so once again, people be damned. Alrighty then!

Bernie O'Hare said...

This particular witness was actually hired to run tests and make sure the design is safe and will comply with state and federal standards. If there was an expert who could have contradicted Dr. Hart, Elliott certainly would have called him. I do like this board, but I do disagree with some of the decisions. I like the board bc it is transparent and open. I do think they made the right call here.

Anonymous said...

A county fire department spokesman said authorities were concerned a second blast could level a 0.75 mile "lethal zone" around the plant.

Everyone within a two-mile radius of the site was evacuated, and a bomb-squad robot was deployed to snap photos of the damaged tank to avoid putting workers at further risk. Some who did approach were reportedly sickened by fumes.

Anonymous said...

Accidents can happen at anytime this tank SHOULD NOT BE ERECTED IN OR AROUND THE PUBLIC.
<<< PS:- Not shouting.

Bernie O'Hare said...

That's why this is not in a residential zone and is also why the blast zone must be limited to the property borders.