Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Propane Industry and IST

I ran across an interesting web page yesterday on the National Propane Gas Association web site. It is entitled “Congress Considering Chemical Security Law to Discourage Propane StorageIt is part of the propane industry’s efforts to limit the effect of chemical security rules on their facilities and on their customers’ facilities. What will come as a surprise to anyone that has been reading this blog for very long is that I tend to at least partially agree with them on their newest issue.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


Their latest concern is with the inherently safer technology (IST) requirements of the new Chemical Facility Anti-terrorism Act of 2008 currently being considered by Congress. They are concerned that it “will require covered facilities to analyze whether reducing or eliminating storage will reduce a facility’s security risk.” They are afraid that a security-based analysis would encourage facilities to switch to fuels that are not covered by the chemical security rules.


Actually there are two separate actions under the heading ‘method to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack’ {Section 2101(11)} that would be of concern to the propane industry:


·         “use of less hazardous substances or benign substances;”


·         “use of smaller quantities of substances of concern;”


Less Hazardous Substitutes


The main point that proponents of IST use to justify mandatory implementation is that if the hazardous chemical is no longer present, then the site is no longer a chemical terrorist target. While a simplification of a potentially complex situation, it does have a basis of truth associated with it.


Propane is actually a relatively good example of the benefit of IST if one only looks at the situation as a security problem. There are a number of alternative fuels that could be used to replace propane in most heating applications. They would require changes in storage tanks and relatively minor equipment modifications to implement. While still dangerous, the alternative fuels are not listed in Appendix A so they legally qualify as less hazardous chemicals.


Of course there are a number of non-security related benefits that are associated with the use of propane as a fuel. Propane is cleaner burning than liquid fuels like fuel oil, diesel or gasoline, producing fewer air pollutants like NOx, SOx, and a whole host of heavy metals. It also produces less carbon dioxide per BTU of heat output than most of its liquid competitors. Only ethanol comes close to being as clean, but it has its own host of environmental problems.


Smaller Quantities


If eliminating a risky chemical eliminates the site as a target, it follows that reducing a risky chemical should reduce the level of risk of attack. Under the current regulations this is especially true for users of propane. Because of the way that DHS rewrote the rules for propane, a minor change can take a facility right out of the ‘high-risk’ facility category; either reducing the total amount on site to less than 60,000 pounds or moving the propane in excess of that amount into 10,000-lb storage tanks (which are excluded from consideration). Nothing in HR 5577 will change this.


While this may be a legally effective method for risk reduction for users of propane, neither option is of much use for removing propane storage facilities or distribution facilities from the high-risk facility list. Changing to the smaller 10,000-lb tanks is not really a practical option. Besides, it would increase the number of connections that would have to be made for each unloading and loading operation, there by increasing the safety risk at the facility.


Restrictions on Implementation


HR 5577 is not completely blind to the problems involved in a blanket requirement to implement IST programs. The proposed legislation contains a number of provisions that provide legally sufficient reasons to not implement IST programs. Both the lack of economic viability and problems with feasibility can provide acceptable reasons not to implement IST programs.


There is another way out as well. Interestingly, the first acceptable reason to not implement IST programs mentioned in the legislation {Section 2110(b)(1)(A)} deals with transferring as opposed to limiting risk. This sub-paragraph states that IST should be implemented only if it


“…would not increase the interim storage of a substance of concern outside the facility or directly result in the creation of a new covered chemical facility assigned to a high-risk tier under section 2102(c)(3) or the assignment of an existing facility to a high-risk tier”


Inadequate Protections


The propane industry is not satisfied that these limits on the requirement to assess and implement IST programs will adequately protect their business. They feel that the pressure to implement IST programs would drive many of their customers to alternate fuels. That combined with pressure on distributors and storage facilities to limit inventories would make their business more expensive to operate and less profitable.


What they would like to see, lacking an outright removal of the IST provisions, is outlined by Congressman Mike Rogers in his Dissenting View in the House Homeland Security Committee report on HR 5577:


“The final version of this bill should contain an exemption for a discreet subset of facilities, specifically, those that sell or use nontoxic fuels for the purposes of heating, cooking, agriculture, or motor fuel. This would enable users and producers of relatively safe fuels like propane to continue business operations that directly affect the livelihoods of many thousands of people, and indirectly impact the entire Nation’s economic vitality.”


I think that the current wording of the requirements for assessing and implementing IST projects is probably adequate for propane storage facilities and distributors to determine that decreasing inventories is not an acceptable method of reducing the consequences of a terrorist attack. It is probably not adequate, however, to prevent a number of commercial or agricultural users of propane from having to consider switching to alternative fuels.


Rather than see an exemption like that suggested by Congressman Rogers, I would propose a more general requirement to include environmental reasons as one of the legitimate justifications that could be included in the assessment as a cause not to implement an IST program. For example the following could be added to Section 2110(b)(1):


“(D) would not increase the rate of carbon dioxide emission from the facility or otherwise harm the environment.”


This would provide some protection to the propane industry in keeping with the previous intent of Congress to encourage the use of cleaner fuels. It would not make them a special exempted industry. Additionally, it would provide a legitimate protection to other types of facilities that could be inappropriately forced into implementing an IST program that caused more problems than it reduced risk of a terrorist attack.

No comments:

/* Use this with templates/template-twocol.html */