Public hearings on the 22.7-million-gallon propane bulk storage and distribution facility proposed for Mack Point in Searsport started Monday night and will continue nightly through Thursday at the Searsport High School.

Area residents, some represented by lawyers, came before the Searsport Planning Board on Monday night to request interested-party status in the public proceedings, a designation that allows them to call witnesses and cross-examine the propane developer.

Most were approved by the planning board, over the objections of DCP Midstream's lead attorney, James Kilbreth, who dismissed their input as frivolous and unnecessarily dragging out the public hearing.

The planning board disagreed, preferring to broaden the discussion, not limit it.

DCP Midstream made their official presentation to the planning board Tuesday night. Kelly Bowden, an attorney representing DCP, issued a stern legal warning that the board should avoid regional concerns and stick to following the Searsport ordinances.

Who pays if there is an accident?

During their presentation, DCP Midstream Senior Vice President Don Baldridge said that the company would accept liability, with backing from their financial partner and publicly traded entity, DCP Midstream Partners, in the event of an emergency.

An ongoing concern among some area residents is whether there would be sufficient funds available from DCP Searsport, which is a limited liability company, should something go wrong.

During cross examination, Steve Hinchman, the attorney representing the lead opposition group Thanks But No Tank, asked Baldridge if he was willing to put DCP Midstream Partners' pledge in writing.

"Yes," said Baldridge.

"It will stand behind them a hundred percent if there's an accident?" asked Hinchman.

"Yes," said Baldridge, calmly. "DCP Midstream Partners will stand behind DCP Searsport."

Kilbreth, the lead attorney for DCP Midstream, broke in.

"This is not Mr. Hinchman's job," he said, addressing the planning board. Then to Hinchman he said, "You've received the answer you're going to get."

Searsport Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert broke in next.

"I have in my notes that DCP Midstream Partners will cover a hundred percent of damages in case of an accident . . . how you get there, you lawyers can figure it out."

"Can you submit a paper on how you will handle insurance?" Hinchman asked Baldridge.

"Sure," he said.

DCP talks about safety

DCP Midstream then drew on engineering, environmental permitting, and propane safety experts to make the case that they can build and run a safe facility that fits in with the existing industrial resources in Searsport.

Jeff Hurteau, who oversees operations and safety at seven DCP Midstream propane facilities in the Northeast, including Gas Supply Resources, LLC, a 20-million-gallon propane marine terminal in Chesapeake, Virginia, that is similar to the proposed Searsport facility, discussed the safety features and the safety record of the plants he manages.

He said in two recent OSHA safety inspections, the facilities he oversees were deemed "exemplary."

Hurteau explained the function of the flare as a safety feature that is used to burn off vapors in the tank only as necessary, as in the case of the recent three-day power failure associated with a storm that went over the Chesapeake site, allowing pressure to build up in the tank.

"During those three days, we flared for 10 hours a day," said Hurteau. Typically vapors are recondensed and added back into the tank, he said.

The propane flare-off contains carbon monoxide; it does not contain tylene or benzene, said Hurteau.

DCP oversees all ship and truck transfers and requires annual safety training for anyone who works on DCP property, including non-employees.

Hurteau said safety valve systems respond to leaks, flame, changes in temperature, pressure and oxygen by automatically isolating the failure. Each automatic control has back-up manual controls, he said.
Will it blow up?

Dr. Phani Raj, a risk analysis consultant brought forward by DCP, discussed the explosive and flammable properties of propane as it would be stored and transported at the Searsport facility.

An internationally recognized expert in hazardous materials safety and risk assessment, Raj is the principal author of the 2011 edition of the Fire Safety Analysis Manual for LP-Gas Storage Facilities, the definitive guide used to comply with U.S. fire safety regulations as they relate to propane (NFPA 58).

Raj's safety research has included the development of mathematical models and field tests to describe how chemicals and flammable materials react during accidental release.

In his presentation, Raj addressed whether the proposed DCP facility would explode in a BLEVE, a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion, in what some have characterized as a bomb going off at Mack Point.

"The conditions do not exist for that," said Raj, explaining that for an explosion of any kind to occur, the propane needs to evaporate from a liquid to a vapor and be mixed with oxygen to a certain amount (propane ignites when it is from 2.2 percent of the mix to 9.6 percent of the mix). Too much oxygen, or too little, and the vapor would not ignite.

For a BLEVE to occur, a tank must also be subjected to high heat that pressurizes the contents. In the unlikely event that a massive external fire could heat the tank, the tank would have already released the pressure, either through safety valves or by the tank being punctured. Either way, the pressure could not build up inside the tank so that it would cause the metal tank to fail.

Raj then took an example of a fast release of the entire contents of the bulk tank into the surrounding landscape, an unlikely event, he said, but one that the containment walls surrounding the tank have to be designed to handle.

"This is like throwing water in a tub and waiting for it to evaporate," said Raj. The super-cold liquid propane at 44 degrees below zero would cool the ground below, slowing evaporation and the possibility of a lot of gas being ignited at once. "The liquid is too cold to evaporate fast enough," he said.

Vapors that were released would mix with oxygen and windy conditions would not spread the volatile vapor like a wave over the area, but make it less volatile as the gas was diluted.

"There has never been a detonation found in an open area," Raj said.

Explosions have occurred in closed or roofed areas where the gas did not disperse but mixed with the proper ratio of oxygen. As to a catastrophic fire, Raj said the conditions also do not exist for that in the DCP Searsport plans. Any spills are directed to a sump area away from the tank and related facilities. If ignited, the liquid would not burn, only the vapor at the proper ratios, creating a manageable hazard given the designs of the facility.

"Dr. Raj, can a 90,000-gallon pressurized tank BLEVE?" asked Hinchman, in cross examination.

"It must be subject to fire for a minimum of 15 minutes," said Raj. It would also mean that all the safety features Hurteau discussed had failed.

Bangor attorney Ed Bearor, who represents the owner of Angler's Restaurant and Bait's Motel, located 400 feet from the proposed tank, derisively challenged Raj's assertions, asking what would happen if a terrorist blew a hole in the side of the tank.

It wouldn't catch fire or explode, said Raj.

"It's liquid," he said. "There's no oxygen."

"Let's say a terrorist rents a room 400 feet away, blows a hole in the tank and another device to create a fire," said Bearor.

Raj threw up his hands.

"If a terrorist comes to Searsport and stays in a hotel, then we have all failed in our citizenship," he said.

Public meetings continue, starting at 6 p.m.