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NORTH BEND — What was designed as a town-hall meeting to discuss the implications of building a liquefied natural gas terminal on Coos Bay’s North Spit devolved into a contest of sorts.

One group of audience members asked “worst-case scenario” questions: What would happen if an LNG tanker spilled its cargo? What if there isn’t any demand for natural gas?

Others asked about the project positives: How many jobs will be created in the area? How much tax revenue will be generated by the construction of an LNG terminal?

Some derided the project’s presenters as snake-oil salesmen, while supporters offered to shift the pipeline route so it would cross their land.

The project, at its earliest, would begin construction this time next year, and wouldn’t start operations until 2012. The more than 100 people who attended Monday’s meeting seemed to suggest interest in the issue hasn’t subsided after a long period with few public meetings.

Safety and environmental concerns were the chief issues for opponents, while economic benefits were what supporters asked about.

Beverly Segner, of Coos Bay, elicited the most vivid response of the evening when she asked what would happen if an accident occurred on an LNG tanker.

Frank Whipple, a safety consultant for Jordan Cove Energy Project, said the first thing that would happen is the LNG would hit the water and freeze it.

“It’s going to freeze the water to an ice cube,” he said. “Obviously any fish in the vicinity will be really cold.”

The LNG would essentially boil at air temperature, producing methane that could travel as far as three miles away, Whipple said. Though gas might travel that far, it would only be a safety concern if it is ignited. And in that case, the most severe area of concern would be within 500 meters or within one-third of a mile of the accident. Within that area, someone would have a chance of getting burned, he said, though Whipple noted that the 500-meter zone would generally not extend beyond the Coos Bay shoreline if the accident occurred in the shipping channel. People more than 500 meters from an accident could still get burned, though the risk decreases with greater distance, he said.

The likelihood of such an accident occurring is small, Whipple said. He noted that tankers are designed with several layers of steel containment to reduce the risk of accidents.

The same is true of pipelines, though the representatives of Pacific Connector had to explain about an accident on a pipeline in Virginia.

Earlier this month, the pipeline, which was buried in the mid-1950s, ruptured and the released gas ignited, said Barry Orgill operating director of Williams Northwest Pipeline, the proposed operator of the Pacific Connector. Five people were hurt, with three or four suffering second-degree burns. The incident is under investigation, Orgill said, though the company has ruled out the possibility a third party caused the accident.

Audience member Jon Barton asked whether newly constructed pipelines are safer and would be less likely to rupture than the Virginia pipeline. Williams Pacific Connector Project Manager Dan Lattin said they are safer, with new pipelines being coated on the inside and outside to prevent corrosion.

Some people attended the meeting to complain about the pipeline going through their property. Originally, Pacific Connector planned to route its 230-mile pipeline through Glasgow Heights, but opposition from residents led the company to change course and propose a route underneath Coos Bay. When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released the draft environmental impact statement last month, it recommended a third route — over land, but through less populated areas and avoiding Glasgow.

Lattin said the principal reason for the change was due to the discovery of Indian archeological fishing weir sites along the underwater route. He also noted federal agencies were concerned about the impacts on aquatic resources during construction.

Pacific Connector representatives said they will send information to landowners who would be affected by the new route within the next week.

Jordan Cove Project Manager Bob Braddock took a variety of questions regarding everything from the hometowns of workers (two-thirds of Jordan Cove employees will be hired from Oregon) to the placement of a fire station on the North Spit (at least 55 feet above the waterline).

In response to questions about the LNG terminal being built in an Enterprise Zone, he noted that the company would pay taxes every year. The first year the company would pay $2 million before escalating up to $10 million by the fourth year.

He also noted that Jordan Cove has been paying Coos County $25,000 a month for use of the county’s pipeline. Braddock said the construction of the LNG terminal would require about 1,000 workers. The team leading the construction project will be announced in about three weeks, he said.

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