Searsport Tank Likened To A-Bomb


A former UMaine geologist has described the proposed 137 foot high, 22.7 million gallon LPG tank as extremely dangerous, with an explosive capacity equal to 33 atomic bombs the size of the one dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.

David B. Laing, in a letter directed to those making siting decisions, questions the stability of the ground it would be built on, the possibility of leaks of highly explosive gas, the proximity of existing flammable fuel tanks and the exposure to attack just off US Route 1 and at the edge of Penobscot Bay. Laing noted a Mexican town obliterated in 1984 when a much smaller LPG tank exploded.

Dear Honorable ____________:
By now, you might have received a number of emails and faxes from residents of Midcoast Maine detailing a broad range of concerns raised by a project proposed by DukeConocoPhillips llc (DCP) to construct a 22.7 million gallon refrigerated liquefied propane gas (LPG) storage tank on Mack Point in Searsport. I would like to focus more narrowly on the safety issues raised by this proposed installation. Of greatest concern is the highly explosive nature of liquefied propane and the siting of the proposed tank adjacent to a large existing tank farm containing flammable fuels with a total energy capacity, when full, of 1.9 megatons. The LPG tank itself would add slightly more than another half megaton of energy, equivalent to at least 33 atomic bombs of the size that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Dr. Francois Amar, chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Maine in Orono has confirmed the energy content figure for the proposed tank. Having nearly two and a half megatons of fuels stored together in the same place would not ordinarily be a cause for concern. The fact that one fifth of those fuels is highly explosive, on the other hand, is extremely troubling. If DCP's LPG tank should undergo a BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion), what might otherwise be a containable and extinguishable blaze would become an uncontrollable, violent, unextinguishable conflagration under the 3000 degree F temperatures generated by the BLEVE. We have a horrific example of a tank farm BLEVE in the 1984 San Juanico disaster near Mexico City in which an undetected leak in a supply line led to the worst industrial mass-casualty incident in Mexico's history. Over 600 people died and over 6000 were seriously injured. The local town was completely obliterated. Most sobering of all, however, is the fact that the PEMEX LPG installation at San Juanico contained less than one thirty-fifth of the energy that would be involved in the event of a BLEVE at Mack Point in Searsport. The cataclysm resulting from such an event can hardly be imagined, but it seems clear that a very large portion of Midcoast Maine would be incinerated. Now, if it could be absolutely guaranteed that there would be no possibility of a BLEVE ever occurring at the DCP Searsport tank, then there would be little to be concerned about. Unfortunately, however, no such guarantee is possible. Very little is known about the bedrock on which the DCP tank would be built. Does it contain a fault that has undergone recent movement like the one found on adjacent Sears Island that ruled out the construction of a nuclear power plant by Central Maine Power in the late '70s and the siting of a considerably less explosive (than LPG) liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage tank in the last decade? Will terrorists be able to resist the temptation of being able to cause the largest mass casualty incident in world history by targeting the minimally secured, readily accessible tank with rocket propelled grenades? Will DCP's choice not to provide backup generating capacity to maintain the tank at minus 44 degrees F in the event of a prolonged power failure due to the need to meet air pollution standards lead to overpressuring and consequent rupturing of the tank? Can human operator error be ruled out? What about supercell thunder and lightning storms? Hurricanes? Tsunamis? If any one of these expectable events were to lead to rupturing of the tank, any one of many ignition sources in the environment would ignite the escaping, boiling, explosive liquid, and the power of over a hundred and fifty atomic bombs would be unleashed upon the Midcoast. Is this a risk that we can afford to take? This project is being fast-tracked with minimum scrutiny, no environmental, economic, or hazardous impact studies, and no opportunity for public comment. Permits issued by the Maine DEP and the US Army Corps of Engineers were predicated on DCP's assertion that they could provide adequate response to a disaster involving the tank, but it turns out that the basis for that assertion is the existing mutual emergency assistance agreement to which all the towns of Waldo County, and in fact all Maine towns, are signatory. Thus, DCP and Searsport have committed the resources--human, material, and economic--of the rest of Maine without consulting those municipalities whose resources would be relied upon or allowing them a seat at the table. To date, seven towns have submitted letters of concern to Searsport over this, and more are expected. I sincerely hope that you will agree with what I feel is the inescapable conclusion that with this proposed LPG storage tank project, DCP and Searsport are putting a large portion of Midcoast Maine at an extremely high and unacceptable level of risk, and that you will direct your best efforts to ensure that appropriate studies in the interest of public safety are undertaken before this project is allowed to go forward.

David Bennett Laing, MA (Harvard)
Retired Assistant Professor of Geology,
University of Maine at Presque Isle and Fort Kent


Area opponents have established a No Tank website which includes video of the town's meeting with DCP lawyers.