As coastal B.C. communities see nearly 20 LNG projects proposed along the coast, many are looking for more information about how LNG shipping could impact our waterways. Those who end up with large carriers going by their communities are certainly interested in what this entails. Let’s take a closer look at LNG carrier design, safety records, marine noise and potential for wakes.
Design and Safety Record
Ship building companies construct carriers of varying sizes, that are designed specifically and only for LNG transport. LNG carriers are some of the most advanced marine vessels in the world, typically costing between US$200-300 million to produce. They are double hulled and have storage tanks inside them to keep the LNG cool and in liquid form.
LNG has been safely carried on thousands of ships since the 1960s, and during this time there has never been a major spill, loss of cargo or environmental incident at sea. If there were to be a spill, however, LNG would turn into gas form and dissipate into the air upon contact with the surface of the ocean, preventing it from affecting sea life. This means LNG poses a minimal risk to marine life and is a reason why many First Nations support LNG over oil.
The impact of LNG carrier noise on the health of marine life is also something to consider, especially since B.C. waterways are already seeing increased vessels traffic. Although there have been few studies on LNG carrier noise specifically, researchers are beginning to understand the cumulative effects of ship noise on sea mammals and it looks like the noise can disturb their communication and hunting.
However, it should be noted that new ships, such as LNG carriers, make less noise than old ships. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) also adopted new guidelines in 2014 to reduce underwater noise. These non-mandatory guidelines encourage designers, shipbuilders and ship operators to consider common technologies and measures to reduce noise.
The federal government has also taken steps to minimize risks and protect our oceans with Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan. As part of the plan, a real-time whale detection system will be implemented to alert mariners to the presence of whales. This will allow LNG carriers to avoid areas with whales altogether. The government also plans to better understand the effects of noise on marine mammals and complete a scientific review of marine areas needing immediate recovery efforts.
Canada also plans to partner with Indigenous communities to minimize safety risks in coastal areas, update regulations and set habitat restoration priorities.
When it comes to the vessel frequency, the reality is LNG facilities don’t typically see a lot of ships. For example, In the case of Woodfibre LNG located in Squamish, there would only be 3-4 LNG carriers coming through each month. In the case of LNG Canada in Kitimat, there would be one ship arriving and one ship leaving each day. This is because one carrier is large enough to hold huge amounts of LNG and because the gas takes up very little space when condensed into liquid form.
The wake of large ships is also a common concern for those near shipping routes, yet through careful planning wakes can be reduced or even avoided. For example, in a study prepared for the Woodfibre LNG facility in Squamish B.C., the depth of the water and the travelling speed of an LNG carrier were assessed to determine what the potential wake could be. It turns out LNG carriers travelling at speeds of 10 knots or less would not produce a noticeable wake in Howe Sound. Woodfibre LNG also noted that the vessels would likely travel at about 8 knots and be accompanied by three tugboats.
Curious what a wake from an LNG carrier looks like? Watch this video from LNG Canada.
While shipping is just one of many aspects of LNG development to consider, the careful design of LNG carriers is one of the reasons LNG shipping has such good safety records. While there is still impact associated with shipping noise, industry and government are continuously working to minimize and mitigate this impact.
For more information on responsible marine shipping, visit ClearSeas.org.