Personal Injury

Savannah controversy: who would pay for hazmat trucking disaster?

The potential for a “catastrophic event” and the costs associated with it are at the center of a debate in Savannah, Georgia after a liquid natural gas (LNG) processor nearby petitioned federal regulators to allow overland shipping of volatile gas.

Southern LNG, which operates a massive LNG import terminal 5 miles downstream from Savannah, currently receives liquid methane by ship and pipes it out as a gas. The company is seeking approval to ship the gas in liquid form by truck through populated areas, including practically through the heart of Savannah.

According to the Savannah Morning News, if the federal government approves the company’s petition, as many as 58 tanker truckloads of LNG would be hauled through busy parts of the city daily, passing two major hospitals, several schools, businesses, and residential neighborhoods.

But attorneys representing Citizens for Clean Air and Water say that there are many scenarios in which a tanker spill or explosion would not be covered by insurance, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for damages. And, in the event of such a catastrophe, the damages would likely be profound.

“LNG can’t burn as a liquid, but if a tanker were breached the resulting vapor cloud could burn hot enough to blister exposed skin more than 700 feet away,” the Savannah Morning News reports.

Additionally, “the U.S. Department of Transportation recommends an evacuation zone of up to a mile around an LNG tanker spill.”

That concerns Chatham County’s Emergency Management Director Clayton Scott, who sounded his concerns at a public forum on the matter, saying that in such a heavily populated area, a massive evacuation isn’t possible within the appropriate time frame. Just as dangerous, he said, was Southern LNG’s lack of resources in the event of a disaster.

“You can’t insure yourself and you can’t protect yourself,” he told company representatives at the forum.

According to the Savannah Morning News, all hazmat trucks must carry a $5-million insurance policy, but that coverage won’t extend to all accidents. Negligence of the driver resulting in a crash would be covered, but damages resulting from a drunk driver, for example, would not be. Property damage might be covered under insurance held by homeowners and businesses, but those policies typically don’t cover damages caused by vehicular accidents, and even if they do they won’t pay for harm and losses outside of property damage.

Attorneys against the petition said the only true protection LNG could afford was for it to keep its hazmat trucks off the city’s roads.