- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
I recently called the sheriff’s office in Lincoln County, Wyo., to ask how they’d handled the evacuation of Opal following the April 23 explosion at the Williams Partners gas processing facility.
Here’s what I learned: After receiving a 911 call, the sheriff’s office secured the area outside the plant and cleared a 4-mile radius around the plant of all residents. Later, out of concern over wind direction, they moved them farther away still and kept them there for the night.
Sounds like an excellent emergency response effort, doesn’t it? And it was. All 96 residents of Opal, Wyo., located a mile from the plant, were successfully moved out of harm’s way.
That’s right: 96.
That’s how remote the Williams Partners facility is: 100 people within a 4-mile radius, all but four of whom live in the town of Opal. It would be harder to evacuate a Walmart than it was to evacuate the 50 square miles around the Williams Partners facility in Wyoming.
Compare that to the Dominion Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas facility:
• Within a 4-mile radius of Dominion Cove Point, there are 16,300 people in 6,143 housing units;
• Within 4 miles, there are three elementary schools, two middle schools, one high school, many day care centers, senior facilities, churches, shopping centers and parks;
• The distance from the entrance to the Williams facility to the closest buildings in Opal is about three-quarters of a mile. The distance from the Dominion Cove Point entrance to the closest residences? A tenth of a mile;
• While the Dominion Cove Point facility footprint is a fraction larger than the one in Wyoming, it will have far more equipment squeezed in for the gas processing and liquefaction and for the onsite power plant, posing a far greater risk of accidents — especially those that could spiral out of control;
• And in case anyone forgot, also within 4 miles of the Dominion Cove Point facility sits a nuclear power plant.
Lincoln County’s officials are deeply concerned about the health and safety of their citizens and took no chances, moving them out of danger (ultimately locating them 20 miles away because, in the remoteness of Lincoln County, that’s how far they had to go to find accommodations). Good for them.
Compare that to Calvert County, where so many questions about the safety of the Cove Point facility and the effectiveness of emergency planning are ignored, dismissed or met with indifference. With Cove Point, in terms of density of equipment and density of population, the risks are unimaginable. In the 4-mile radius around the DCP plant, there are 326 people per square mile; in the 4 miles around the plant in Wyoming, there are — exactly — two people per square mile.
Southern Marylanders are right to be concerned and are right to ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require an environmental impact statement that will look into these kinds of safety and emergency preparedness issues as well as health and environmental issues. It’s not a frivolous request. It’s an important requirement that we need and have every right to expect.
When I finished my conversation with the Lincoln County official, I mentioned the demographics of the area surrounding Dominion Cove Point. He was impressed. “Wow,” he said. “Good luck.”
Thanks, Opal. We need it.
Lili Sheeline, Port Republic