Globe Editorial

Yemen isn’t the real problem with gas shipments via Harbor

January 5, 2010

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SHIPPING LIQUEFIED natural gas in massive tankers to Everett through narrow Boston Harbor has always been dangerous, no matter where the gas was loaded. And while a recent Al Qaeda plot hatched in Yemen has heightened local fears about a planned delivery next month of liquefied gas loaded in that troubled country, it doesn’t justify an outright prohibition on the shipment. Nonetheless, the Yemen connection underscores the need for stringent security for all such shipments - and offers a reminder that gas industry and public officials should have long ago begun planning a safer alternative to the Distrigas facility in Everett.

The facility was built 40 years ago, long before a terrorist associated with Al Qaeda tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet bound for Detroit. Yet bringing LNG tankers through Boston Harbor was always a poor idea. As an engine failure aboard a tanker off Cape Cod two years ago demonstrated, enough mishaps and natural disasters can occur to make Everett an unwise destination for the ships, even without the extra risk of terrorist sabotage. What’s needed is a new Distrigas facility in a more sparsely populated part of New England.

On any cold winter night, as much as 40 percent of New England’s gas comes to the region aboard ships, supplementing the pipelines that connect the region to sources in the South or in Canada. On an annual basis, the region gets 20 percent of its gas from LNG. Gas utilities throughout the region depend on tanker-truck deliveries of liquefied gas from Everett to keep their customers supplied.

Al Qaeda is all too aware of the tanker shipments. In his 2004 book, former US counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke wrote that before 9/11 Al Qaeda had smuggled agents into this country on board the tankers, some of which are longer than three football fields. After the 9/11 attacks, US officials temporarily closed Boston Harbor to the shipments until they could put adequate security measures in place. Those attacks should also have prompted government and industry officials to begin seeking an alternative to Everett. After more than eight years, such an effort is long overdue.

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