In recent years a number of states have enacted restrictions on the siting of facilities for the importation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) within their borders. These restrictions have been challenged by gas distribution companies and by agencies of the federal government on the grounds that they inhibit interstate commerce and are preempted by federal regulations covering natural gas facilities. The states insist that no such conflicts exist.
Natural gas supplies about one-third of the United States’ energy needs. Recurring shortages of domestically produced natural gas have prompted the gas industry to seek new sources of natural gas, including LNG imported from overseas. LNG is natural gas chilled below its condensation point to form a compact and easily transportable liquid. Imported LNG promises to offset the decline in domestic natural gas reserves by supplying between ten and fifteen percent of the nation’s gas consumption by the mid-1980’s.
Fulfillment of LNG’s promise, however, entails a high cost. LNG is a hazardous, highly flammable fuel substance, requiring the most stringent safety measures. When spilled on land or water, LNG expands as it warms to air temperature, forming a dense cloud that is heavier than air. A low-lying flammable cloud of LNG from a large spill could spread for miles. It would ignite instantly on contact with a flame or spark, causing a vast slow-burning fire. If a vapor cloud ignited in an inhabited area, people and property would be incinerated, causing incalculable tragedy.
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