Tag Archives: LNG conversion

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):


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.


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


The WSF LNG Conversion Proposal—Who’s Minding the Store?

Guest Post by Alex Zecha, Washington State Ferries Chief Engineer

Editors’ Note: this article is a summary of a technical paper that Alex prepared on the proposed LNG conversion. The full report, including sources and references, can be accessed here. Guest posts are exclusively the work of their author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the San Juan Island Ferry Group.

Overview— For the last several years WSF has been working on a plan to convert the Issaquah class vessels from the use of diesel fuel to liquefied natural gas (LNG). The WSF proposal has numerous shortcomings, the most notable of which concern the issue of passenger and crew safety. WSF proposes to install LNG fuel tanks on the top decks of the converted vessels, placing an extremely volatile energy source in much closer proximity to the general public than would be allowed to exist ashore. In other LNG applications such as utility plants, risks to the public are substantially mitigated via a robust regulatory body that establishes guidance for design and operation of the facility. The regulations applying to shoreside LNG plants in the vicinity of the general public don’t apply to maritime users; in fact, there is currently no enacted regulatory guidance regarding the use of LNG aboard passenger vessels.Instead of regulatory guidance, the US Coast Guard (USCG) is relying on a risk-based assessment for approval of the proposed WSF conversion. The USCG is not performing this risk assessment, nor are they contracting for it with a third-party vendor. Instead they are allowing WSF to use the risk assessment created by a vendor, Det Norske Veritas (DNV). Rather than following regulations that have ensured a favorable safety record with LNG, TheUSCG’s approval of the project is based on a risk assessment drafted by a vendor with a clear conflict of interest. This leaves ferry riders in the unenviable position of being subject to the introduction of a new fuel type with catastrophic failure modes but without the regulatory checks and balances needed to ensure public safety. WSF has accepted and passed along to the regulatory agency a risk assessment with numerous significant errors and omissions, all of which serve to understate overall project risk.Continued use of such a flawed product constitutes an abandonment of the duty of care required of all public servants.

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Weekly news roundup

Your ferry news for the week of June 1st to June 7th.

Kingston FAC Chair Walt Elliott has a good review of the issues facing our newest ferries, the Kwa-di Tabil “I-lean” Class boats.

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WSF engineer Alex Zecha raises questions on the LNG conversion proposal and its connection to fracking.

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The results of two polls on transportation funding show that Washington voters think differently about transportation funding depending on how the questions are asked. An article on Publicola explores this idea:

“Asked about their general transportation priorities, respondents to the Elway poll strongly preferred repair and maintenance (90 percent) to things like major highways (68 percent) and mass transit (60 percent).

“However, a separate poll, by EMC Research, concluded that “a strong majority”—69 percent—of voters support funding transportation even if it means more taxes, and that a majority of all voters said they supported passing a package to pay for transportation improvements this year.”

An earlier article on the Seattle Transit Blog on the March Elway transportation poll explored in some detail the idea that poll results are strongly influenced by how the questions are framed.

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Ferry fares are going up again October 1st.

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Bainbridge Island is running a shuttle bus this summer to help residents and visitors get around the island car-free. The shuttle is being sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and funded through lodging tax revenues and local sponsors.

Guest Post: WSF and Liquid Natural Gas


By Forest Shomer

Since December 2012, Washington State Ferries (WSF) has repeated and publicly stated that it is “exploring” a conversion of part of the ferry fleet to liquid natural gas (LNG) fueI. After five months of “exploring” we know that WSF has sought and secured Coast Guard permissions for some of the steps required to make that conversion. The full story remains under wraps.

The key, unspoken element during these past five months, is the purchase price of the LNG fuel. Will that price result in a savings on the WSF balance sheet over current petrofuels? Will the savings be sufficient to retire the capital cost of converting existing systems over to LNG and in how many years? In large part, the answers depend on what LNG fuel source(s) is accessed. By what natural gas pipeline that exists today, can WSF get LNG right to a refueling point for the six ferries that are proposed for conversion?

How can WSF not identify the source of the LNG? It will either come from Canadian Tar Sands or from fracked Wyoming sources. They are both objectionable. (Alaskan LNG is reportedly insufficient to extend to fueling our ferries.) WSF may not know at this moment which source would be drawn upon, on a given date a year or two from now, but after all these months of “study” they surely know the full extent of probable sources for this fuel.

Fracked natural gas from Wyoming is conveyed westward via a line that terminates at Klamath Falls, Oregon. The line was projected to extend to Coos Bay to a LNG saltwater terminal from whence the gas could be sold to Asian markets. It would have required extensive eminent-domain takings and five major coastal river crossings (including the Wild and Scenic Rogue) to reach Coos Bay. It has now been reported that the push for a Coos Bay terminal is being abandoned. (But not officially ‘dead’ yet.) WSF appears to be a potential major customer, even though the fuel would have to be trucked hundreds of miles via mostly 2-lane roads. The payoff of (maybe) reduced fuel costs and less-particulated Puget Sound air would be offset by the expense and hazard of highway trucking, ironically via diesel tanker trucks leaving elevated particulates along a lengthy highway corridor. A much smaller and less politically advantaged human population would be inhaling particulates that Puget Sound residents would not.

Canadian Tar Sands are implicated in three major spills that have occurred during the week of April 2-6 in three different states/provinces! You may have heard or seen images of the very large Arkansas spill being ‘cleaned’ with paper towels–even though major media have barely mentioned it, and reporters were banned from the immediate area for several of the worst days thanks to Exxon’s political clout in that state. Then there was the large spill on the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota and another spill north of the border. Shall WSF become a direct consumer of Tar Sands products as well?

Liquid natural gas from Alberta is a byproduct of Tar Sands oil production from bitumen–the dirtiest fuel on the planet. It would be brought to the Vancouver area by a new Kinder Morgan pipeline from 700 miles across the Canadian Rockies. Then it would need to be conveyed further to WSF’s refueling locations. The real goal is export of Tar Sands LNG to Asian markets. Having a customer like WSF (and quite possibly BC Ferries) would substantially help massage the numbers Kinder Morgan needs in order to get approvals to build the new pipeline.

Without a Kinder Morgan LNG line, the back-up strategy appears to be the much-opposed Enbridge fuel corridor across northern BC. Coastal First Nations affected by Shell Canada’s proposed LNG terminal at Kitimat say air quality and the number of vessels that will pass through their fishing grounds are emerging as the main issues they want to see addressed if the $12-billion-plus project is to go ahead.

It appears that without one of these environmentally (and politically) objectionable LNG fuel sources, WSF has no real chance of financially justifying conversion to LNG powered ferries. The entire shaky proposal, of spending $85.6 million to convert six Washington State Ferries of the Issaquah Class, rests on a $2.00/gallon differential in the price of oil and the price of future LNG. If the actual cost of LNG turns out to be higher, for example if foreign buyers outbid domestic buyers and cause the price to rise, the proposal collapses. But once converted, WSF would have no real choice but to buy LNG at the going rate.

Read this New York Times article on the supposed cleanliness of Tar Sands LNG.

WSF should come clean with this information about their supposedly clean fuel conversion. Concealment as is their practice right now, fuels alarm that decisions have already been made that are being kept under cover until the last possible moment.

Forest Shomer was appointed in 2004 to serve on the Keystone Citizen Advisory Group to WSF. He lives in Port Townsend and was a founding member of the regional citizens group, Ferry Community Partnership.

Additional links:

Image of Suncor Refinery, Alberta CA

WSF – Liquified Natural Gas

Canadians Fear Spill from New Kinder Morgan Pipeline, Tankers

Massive Gas Explosion Rocks Texas Neighborhood

BLEVE Gas Explosion

Ferries to spend $85.6 million to Begin Conversion to Controversial Fuel Source

First Norwegian Electric Ferry Sets Sail

News roundup: LNG as ferry fuel, Martinac Shipbuilding, and WSF consulting studies

As usual, the Kitsap Sun does an excellent job of reporting on ferry issues. Four articles came out within the past couple of days on two important issues. First up: the proposal to begin switching ferries to run on LNG (Liquified Natural Gas)  instead of diesel fuel:

Report highlights potential pitfalls for liquefied natural gas-fueled ferries:

“WSF, citing a study by a Seattle-based marine engineering firm, announced in August that it could save millions of dollars per year by converting. The cost of converting the boats to LNG engines would be paid for within seven years, WSF said then.

“But the report released Wednesday by Seattle-based Cedar River Group and two other consulting firms wasn’t as optimistic.

“The report, provided to transportation committees from the state House and Senate, indicates that WSF’s venture into liquefied natural gas will have to be methodical and intricately planned out for one or two decades.”

And next up, Pam Dzama has an excellent critique not only of the LNG issue, but also the (seemingly) endless steam of consulting studies that taxpayers are funding:

“I’m sure it’s somewhere hidden in the fine print of Washington state’s budget, but I couldn’t find the line item indicating the amount allocated to funding current and future consulting operations. I’m sure it’s an amount the Legislature doesn’t advertise.

“Two recent articles in the Kitsap Sun about the Washington State Ferries system discussed the findings of two separate studies done by several different consulting organizations. Their findings were delivered to the House and Senate transportation committees…

“Newly appointed Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, posited that part of the micromanagement problem comes from the Legislature constantly studying and tinkering with various ferry system requirements and funding ideas, changing priorities year to year…

“Yes, this matter has been studied enough. It’s time for the Legislature to fund the ferries as a legitimate highway system and for ferries management and unions to apply common sense in dealing with their various issues — including the ability to understand the limited resources available to them at this time.”

Two articles about the contract to build two new 144-car ferries:

Tacoma firm in jeopardy of losing its share of ferry work:

“Martinac Shipbuilding has until the end of the business day Tuesday to lower its costs for a new state ferry or lose millions of dollars in work.

“The Tacoma firm is among a team signed to build a 144-car boat for Washington State Ferries. Vigor Industrial — formerly Todd Shipyards — heads the group.

“Vigor’s proposal to the state in July was rejected by WSF Director David Moseley as disappointingly high. The boatbuilding consortium sliced the price to $115.4 million, and the state accepted it Nov. 1.”

Tacoma company makes plug to keep ferry work:

“Martinac Shipbuilding made a counteroffer to try to save its share of work on a new state ferry, and should find out by Wednesday morning whether it succeeded. Also Tuesday, the state auditor said his office would perform an audit next year on the state’s ferry construction program.”