Publish Date: 
Monday, June 22, 2015 - 9:45am

Liquid natural gas is poised to be either a best friend to Martin County residents, or its worst enemy. 

The Fortress Investment Group-related liquified natural gas plant in Medley is nearing completion without any apparent federal regulatory oversight. The LNG will be used to fuel FEC trains. The U.S. Department of Energy also authorized sale of the LNG it produces to both Federal Trade Agreement and non-FTA countries. 

The storage tanks for the liquified natural gas are in place at the Medley plant, ready to hold the 100,000 gallons of LNG produced daily to fuel FEC trains and to export internationally. 

An LNG plant in Indiantown, after spending years jumping through all the required federal and state regulatory hoops, will soon be under construction and operational by 2016, adding significantly to Martin County's tax and employment base. 

At the same time, the ever-increasing number of FEC rail cars, which soon will be carrying thousands of tons of LNG to Florida ports from less tightly regulated plants than Indiantown's, will also most likely be burning LNG for fuel. The 24 new GE locomotives purchased in 2014 by FEC Railroad can be converted from diesel fuel to LNG, with a conversion kit and an LNG tanker car, according to a GE press release. 

All Aboard Florida locomotives likely also will be running on LNG. Two companies related to All Aboard Florida's par ent company, Fortress Investment Group, are building two LNG facilities, one in Titusville and one near Miami International Airport in Medley at the Hialeah Rail Yard owned by FEC Railway. 

Despite the billions of tons of liquified natural gas projected to be traveling the rails through Martin County, LNG is not one of the hazardous materials identified by Martin County Fire Rescue Division Chief Daniel Wouters in his recent report to the Martin County Com- mission on the county's vulnerability in chemical spills. 

“The concern we have is the increase of the high-speed passenger trains along with the cargo, which travels at a lower speed,” he said, referring to All Aboard Florida's projected 32 trains daily crossing more than 26 intersections in Martin County. “That has the potential to increase our risk for these types of accidents.” 

The chemicals Wouters listed, including liquefied anhydrous ammonia and liquefied chlorine gas, are toxic, however LNG is not. It is the preferred fuel for trains and trucks because of its far lower cost. It also burns cleaner than diesel fuel. Since natural gas is cooled to around minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, LNG also is non-flammable and floats on top of water. It vaporizes quickly, so a spill does not threaten the water sup- ply; however, LNG still poses hazards during production and transporting. 

In the event that a LNG tank is ruptured in a transport accident, spilling LNG, a high probability of a fire exists. A flammable natural gas vapor/air mixture will be formed immediately in the vicinity of the LNG pool, according to the Federal Transit Administration, but there is no odor associated with its vapors to warn first-responders. If ignited by a spark or other external ignition, the heat released from an LNG pool fire is approximately 60 percent greater than that of a gasoline pool fire of equivalent size. 

To obtain authorization to export LNG from any Florida port, another Fortress company, American LNG Marketing LLC in New York, obtained two Department of Energy authorizations, one on March 19 and the other May 29, to export a combined 33 billion cubic feet (600,000 metric tons) of LNG internationally from the Medley and Titusville plants. The authorizations each took less than three weeks to obtain. 

Although American LNG pledged in its Department of Energy application that all the applicable permits would be obtained for the Titusville facility, No such promises were made for the Medley plant. In fact, American LNG said that the company was “categorically excluded” from requiring state or federal permits, including from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which normally oversees LNG facilities. 

The Medley plant, under the name LNG Holdings LLC, incorporated in Florida a year ago, purchased from Chart Industries an LNG liquefaction plant the same month, which is already nearing completion within months of arrival. The plant is expected to produce 100,000 gal- lons of LNG daily, according to Chart. 

Indiantown residents have waited nearly eight years for the proposed LNG plant there, confident in the state and federal oversight of its operations and the 30 high-paying jobs it brings to the county. For Martin County residents, however, the prospect of trainloads of LNG from a plant with no energy commission oversight, traveling on the soon-to-be crowded FEC tracks, probably not so much. 

--Barbara Clowdus