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Why's a Big Red Tanker Drifting Near Boston? (gcaptain.com)
107 points by protomyth 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 79 comments

>But as pipeline projects in New England face legal delays and public opposition

They're talking about the northern pass, a proposed 200 mile pipeline from Canada, through the White mountain national forest in to New England.

I know the region has energy and cost issues, but there has to be a better way than to put protected national land at risk.

We also recently had a "catastrophic failure", that caused a dozen explosions in homes, killed one, and caused 40 house fires.

It didn't rally a lot of support for natural gas expansion.

> there has to be a better way than to put protected national land at risk.

Please explain where the high risk is ... explosions in the middle of nowhere aren't going to hurt much, and if their are leaks, the gas will simply vent into the atmosphere rather than cause the kind of damage that oil spills do.

Seems like firing up coal plants in heavily populated regions (the current alternative) is worse. In terms of heat and power generation in cloudy regions, natural gas is vastly superior to everything except nuclear for cleanliness and co2/gigawatt-hour... and if cost is considered, it beats out nuclear too.

This is not a problem for a gas transmission pipeline. Gas leaks are a problem for low-pressure (a few psi) distribution pipes. There is simply too much pipe to find and repair every leak, and low pressure means low leak flow rate.

A gas transmission pipeline is hundreds of times higher pressure, they will shut down a pipeline as soon as a leak is detected.

This is not a problem for a gas transmission pipeline

Actually, it is.

I used to live very near a major natural gas pipeline in New England and each year the operators would send us a leaflet in the mail reminding us not to be alarmed by the helicopters that would fly up and down the route because they were just looking for dead or yellowing trees, which were the first signs of a pipeline leak.

They should fix the leaking broken pipes under cities before adding new ones. I realize they're different things but there are plenty of reasons not to trust energy companies to maintain infrastructure adequately.

Any public company has an incentive to cut costs, so I'd imagine that a federal company would have higher standards.

And based on my brief research on this specific pipeline (which appears to have been scrapped), the gas was to be used for power generation. There was also a proposal for a 320KV transmission line to import power instead, which appears to be going ahead. Personally, I would 1000x rather have a gas pipeline transit my land than a 320kv transmission line. Residential proximity to HV transmission lines increases risk of leukaemia ... at least gas lines can be monitored for leaks & repaired. The people who scuttled this seem to ignore that the dense urban development that they love requires importation of energy in some form from far-flung places.

>Residential proximity to HV transmission lines increases risk of leukaemia

"Everything is correlated." The land next to HV lines is cheaper, poorer people have higher mutational load, therefore a higher cancer rate. You get a real, authentic correlation between power lines and cancer, without power lines actually directly causing cancer.


Obviously, when looking at comparative cancer rates within a single country, comparisons of mutational load within that country is more useful than comparing mutational load between countries. If you know of a study that aggregates power line cancer data from multiple countries, without normalizing it against the base rate for that country, I'd be interested in seeing it.

Building and maintaining it is part of the equation too, and that will be destructive. Glad it’s not up to me to decide on.

The high risk is destroying forest land without fully realizing the extent of the impact it will cause.

Ironically said Catastrophic Failure was caused by refusal to make regular steady improvements to ancient infrastructure.

The northern pass is an electrical project

wasn't that like wooden pipelines from the 18th century or something?

True, but what really moves people is price (and better cooking experience, not that electrics aren’t much better than before). People write off those gas explosions to old infra problems.

You say that as if old infra problems are little more thsn a minor inconvenience, and not a ticking time bomb...

I remember when they opened that offshore LNG port – they built it when energy prices were through the roof, and everyone expected LNG imports to remain profitable.

They built the port miles offshore because MA was banning harbor-side offloading of LNG due to concerns of accidents or attacks on LNG tankers. But by the time they completed it, hydraulic fracking had become so successful that LNG prices collapsed and no one wanted to import it anymore.


The same thing happened with the Cheniere Energy in Louisiana but due to the location they were able to turn it into an export facility.

Lucky. It’s not cheap/easy to convert from LNG import to LNG export.

Here's the non-blogspam original source: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-22/two-month...

"On Feb. 1, when Exemplar and Express were simultaneously berthed at the terminal, they sent enough fuel to run all of New England’s gas-fired generators for the day, according to Oliver Simpson, vice president of Excelerate’s commercial operations"

This statement says nothing of what proportion of the tanker capacities was consumed in that day. Anyone know?

It says nothing more than they fulfilled a single day of gas-fired generators needs, which by itself doesn't sound worthwhile.

Ship capacity: https://excelerateenergy.com/fleet/

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Tuesday that demand for natural gas in New England registered at 4.34 billion cubic feet per day and that the regional pipeline was operating at 77.1 percent capacity. The agency said that during a brief cold snap in January, "increased heating demand strained the natural gas system as natural gas consumption in the region, on January 21, 2019, reached their highest level this winter."


Ships capacities are 138k-150k m^3.

Multiply by 35 to get cubic feet, and we get about 5m cubic feet per ship, or 1% of a day’s demand if my math is correct.

"It takes up about 1/600th the volume of natural gas in the gaseous state" [1]

So 600% by your calculation; 6 days?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquefied_natural_gas

edit: darn singlow beat me to it :)

Haven't checked the math but are you accounting for Liquid->Gas expansion?

If the figures for Boston's consumption are for gaseous methane and LNG expands 600x then you would have ~6 days supply.

Related: See this 13 minute video about how Qatar became really rich: https://youtu.be/yFpHUzNomlc

(Summary: Its by developing technology for storing and exporting liquefied natural gas)

"The Northeast also can’t receive gas from other U.S. states by ship because of a 1920 law that prohibits foreign-flagged vessels from moving between American ports."


The Jones Act says that a ship has to stop at a non-US port in between US ports, UNLESS THAT SHIP IS US FLAGGED (meaning it complies with all US labor, environmental, etc. regulations)[1]. These days, very few merchant ships are US flagged: essentially you have to be specialized in the business of moving between US ports (most prominently shipping to Puerto Rico) versus shipping between countries.

It would not make economic sense for an LNG carrier to be US flagged year round to serve a market that exists for two months (New England in January and February), so no LNG tanker is US flagged. Therefore no LNG can be carried between Louisiana and Boston, and they have to come from Russia or Trinidad.

[1]: It is slightly more complicated then that. There are further regulations to prevent the obvious work-arounds you are presently thinking of, person who never heard of this law before but thinks he can outsmart it.

Disclaimer: my experience is in containerized cargo, not in bulk like LNG.

I take issue with your first paragraph. While it's true that many American flagged carriers run a mainland to island business (PR, Hawaii) I wouldn't call them specialized. Matson and APL are both very large US flagged carriers that have significant trans-pacific volume (i.e. the most significant, mainstream global tradelane). In fact, Matson (US flagged) has a reputation for being a premium transpac carrier because they operate their own dedicated terminals and can turn around cargo much faster than others.

None of this is to say that the Jones Act isn't a protectionist piece of garbage, but the situation isn't as dire as you lay out.

The Jones Act isn't really protectionist. We don't allow foreign registered trucks to carry cargo between American cities so why should the rule be any different for ships?

The Jones Act is highly protectionist, both in original intent and in actual effect. [0] The act grants a virtual monopoly on domestic island freight to the few US flagged carriers. You may have heard that things in Hawaii are expensive because "they have to ship everything there." That's true, but misleading. A gigantic share of US consumer goods are also shipped from China, but you don't hear similar complaints about the cost of goods in Tennessee . That's because the US carriers can literally charge anything they want [1].

Your analogy isn't accurate. The accurate analogy would be "We don't allow trucks manufactured outside the United States, owned and operated by non-US companies, and driven by non-citizens to carry cargo between American cities.

[0] https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2017/10/05/h... [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monopoly_price

> A gigantic share of US consumer goods are also shipped from China, but you don't hear similar complaints about the cost of goods in Tennessee .

While I'm certain you are infinitely more knowledgeable on this than I am, this doesn't seem to be a fair comparison. Doesn't the scale difference (Hawaii vs the continental US) have an important impact on efficiencies and costs?

As a mere reader, if non-US-flagged ships aren't allowed to stop at two consecutive US ports, then it seems likely they'd head to California instead of Hawaii, since it is the larger market, leaving Hawaii, which would otherwise receive cheap cargo on a mid-way stop, instead having to them import it from the mainland, so paying shipping for both the initial foreign-to-mainland trip and then a low-competition and more expensive US-flagged mainland-to-Hawaii trip.

If they could stop at Hawaii before and then after mainland, then they could drop off containers when passing each way, lowering Hawaii's costs.

It certainly is; note that in the EU the single market rules allow trucks from any country to ship between and within other EU countries with a single permit.

The post Brexit arrangements for this remain unclear, which is why people are starting to stockpile.

Is that true? A Canadian truck wouldn’t be allowed to haul cargo between Detroit and Buffalo, for example?

Yes, carbotage laws apply to road and air traffic as well, albeit not as strict as the Jones Act.

A Canadian truck based in Windsor (driven by a driver with valid work visa) is allowed to pick up goods in Detroit before going to Buffalo, because this leg of the trip is considered incidental to an internatonal route. However if the truck were to make multiple return trips between Detroit and Buffalo it would not be legal

Interesting. Is there something that would stop them from making a sham delivery in Windsor each time through to skirt the law?

It's actually worse than that:

Ships that transport goods or passengers between US ports must be US-registered, owned by US citizens, built in the US, and operated by US residents. It's a bit of exceptionally protectionist legislation passed a hundred years ago that continues to hang on mostly because nobody uses boats to move things between US ports anyway.

It's a mess for the cruise industry thought. Cruise ships are never built in the US, so they have to drop off passengers at the same port they picked them up at, or it's a $778 fine per passenger, even in a medical emergency. The cruise company will make the passenger pay the fine, of course.

Where a ship is built is irrelevant. Foreign built ships can be US flagged. The owners just don't want to pay for it.

I think you're mistaken:

> The Jones Act requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be transported on ships that are built, owned and operated by United States citizens or permanent residents.


You are correct. In fact, one cruise line did attempt to build a ship in the USA during the early 2000s for the purpose of running cruises in Hawaii. The project was a disaster. Norwegian Cruise Lines bought the ship's carcass, towed it to Germany, and had it turned into an actual passenger vessel. They were given special dispensation to run the cruises anyway when it was finished.


You are both sort of correct. A foreign built ship can be us flagged, it just isn’t eligible for Jones act trade. I am a US Merchant Mariner who has worked on a US flagged, Australian built ship in Asia. There aware other considerations besides just cabotage laws about where one might want to flag one’s vessel.

The one thing I never understood was why everyone gets bent out of shape over shipping rules but don’t consider or care about airline cabotage.

The Jones Act prohibits using a foreign vessel to ship things from one US port to another. You can import or export on a foreign vessel, but you can't use a (say) Panama-flagged ship to move stuff from New York to Boston.

Ships are subject to their country's rule and regulations; if a down-on-their-luck country wants to look the other way on environmental hazards or lax operating procedures on a ship, that ship can be run for cheaper than an American ship.

If we didn't have the Jones Act, we'd be hard-pressed to justify having any sort of merchant marine shipping at all -- foreign-flagged ships could undercut even moving stuff up and down the coasts or waterways.

Still, it does come up often, especially during emergencies. For example, when Puerto Rico had trouble getting goods shipped in after Hurricane Maria because there weren't enough US cargo vessels on hand to move cargo from Florida to Puerto Rico. The president at the time was criticized for not rapidly suspending the Jones Act to allow foreign ships to move critical goods.



Is it not possible for us to regulate the behavior of foreign-flagged ships as a condition for allowing them to dock at US ports? This would seem to have better implications than banning them entirely.

It's not just a foreign flagged vessel but a foreign made vessel.

This is why you also (annoyingly) can't go on a cruise between solely American ports (IE, Hawaii island tour; California->Hawaii; Washington->Alaska; eastern/southern/western seaboard tour) without stopping someplace else. Typically, they use Canada for western/eastern cruises.

Here's a Planet Money episode on the Jones Act


I had the same question. Why would they be foreign-flagged if the are from another state?

Correct. Just like how most countries don’t allow foreign companies to operate domestic trucking or domestic flights.

It does mean places like Puerto Rico can buy things more cheaply internationally than nationally.

Similar to how Amazon (used to) enable sales tax savings by making it easy to buy from out-of-state instead of in-state.

The difference is that it's really rare to have restrictions on the vehicles themselves. An American company can register trucks (that have been homologated) or airplanes regardless of where they were manufactured; a Jones Act-compliant vessel must also be built in the US, which is a Catch-22.

Larger vessels are usually foreign-flagged for regulatory (avoidance) reasons.

Yep. The Jones Act

Well, natural gas can be shipped between states, it just has to by US flagged vessels. (There May not be any US-flagged LNG ships).

“Can’t” isn’t true.

It’s like saying “Walmart can’t ship goods between its US warehouses and US stores because foreign truckers aren’t allowed to ship interstate”.

Well, duh.

The Jones Act also bans registering a vessel in the US if it wasn't built there. US shipbuilders are happy serving the captive market, so if you want one to build an LNG carrier it'll cost at least four times what Samsung charges.

If the US had an open registry, there would be US-built LNG ships; there's no shortage of competitive American shipbuilders that make vessels small enough to be exempt. But the Jones Act pissed that away, as protectionist laws invariably do.

This is sort of incorrect, it is possible to flag a foreign built ship under the American flag, it just isn’t eligible for Jones Act trade. There are a few reasons why a company might want to do this but for the most part, companies will choose a flag of connivence over American flag if they can sail between US ports anyways.

If there are no qualifying LNG tankers then “can’t” is completely true.

This is doing the same thing the Tesla Battery is doing in South Australia.

This is mildly unrelated, but living in New England and being stuck with shitty heating bills in January and February always makes me wonder what things would be like if we had enough common sense to move to regions of the country where heating isn't so vital. There's plenty of space out there.

Sure excessive heat is an issue, but if my heat goes off when it's 2°F I would likely die within a day or two. Not in practice of course (thanks society!) just in theory. I can withstand 102° heat just fine if water is available and I'm a little careful.

I've camped in Sub-Zero weather before. Not my idea of fun, but if you have the right clothing and a good sleeping bag it's not life-threatening. And especially if you are indoors out of the wind, you could survive it.

Same. Heck, I've been in forty below, but that was with wind chill. That's actually one of the worst things, the wind. As someone who has camped in ten below and 110, you can always put on more, but you can only take off so much.

> but if my heat goes off when it's 2°F I would likely die within a day or two.

In your own home you should be able to survive those conditions same as 102 — unhappy but safe. I slept outdoors last week end at about 5 F — with more extreme gear but then again no house.

I do believe you shouldn’t have to but If you run out of heating oil (most common in NE) a Combination of blankets, jackets, hat plus soup or other warm food should at least keep you alive.

Isn't there a theory that winters forced human evolution because of the need for preparation?

Not so relevant today. But an interesting thought.

Former Boston resident here.

Moved to Hawaii after a blizzard and then to CA. The weather is wonderful here and we can drive up to the snow if we want.

We still need heat in the winter but the temperatures aren't as intense.

I do not Boston though just not the weather.

I remember a fair amount of older houses in New England had oil heating and the cost was crazy high.

There are still many that have heating oil. I live in NH and have heating oil. I also had heating oil while living in central PA.

Virginia here, I just converted my house from oil to gas a few months ago.

Fun fact: heating oil is just diesel fuel. I ran out of oil a while before the gas installation and didn’t want to pay for the minimum 150 gallon delivery the local companies required, so I made it through by visiting the local gas station with some gas cans a few times.

Heating oil is diesel fuel not legal for on highway vehicle use. It's fine to buy diesel fuel taxed for vehicles and burn it in your heater though, but you'll (eventually) get in a lot of trouble for doing it the other way.

Oddly, getting it from the gas station was slightly cheaper per gallon. I assume the cost of delivering to my house exceeded the tax for vehicle fuel.

This is common in North Carolina as well and it's bonkers. You keep a giant reservoir of gonna burn your house down.

Not just oil heat, but using the oil to heat a boiler to turn water into steam to travel up to radiators and then finally get some warmth in your living space. It seemed so inefficient. Oh and did I mention the house had zero insulation too. Fun times, glad I’m not living in Boston anymore.

Remember 1-800-JOE-4-OIL ?

We have that, but it's called Florida....

I agree. I live in a condo in Georgia and 99% of my heating and cooling is performed by heat pump.

Heat pumps keep getting better and better. I actually use one as my primary heat source in New Hampshire now. It's cheaper than oil or traditional electric resistance heating.

Plus air conditioning in the summer is a nice bonus.

Humans are a sub-tropical species. So you are correct - we are totally better off in warm climates. But at the rate we're going, Boston will have Florida weather in 50 years.

If only - expect Florida heat, Canada cold, and extreme weather of all types.

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