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Pipeline won't actually transport LNG

To the Word Wizards at the MMT. I've got a couple of questions that you might be able to answer relating to concerns/questions that some locals might have. What does liquified natural gas look like? How viscous is it. If it spills, does it look like Exxon Valdez gummy sticky tar that sticks to rocks and birds forever? Or is it thin and runny like gasoline. If there is a rupture in the pipeline, does the LNG volatilize and evaporate. Does it evaporate relatively quickly, or would it hang in a cloud like an inversion, waiting for a spark to ignite the sky?

— James H., Medford

To clarify a point frequently misunderstood, James, the proposed pipeline will not transport liquified natural gas. It will be transporting natural gas, in a clear, lighter than air, gaseous state.

"Natural gas does not run, flow, puddle, stick, hang or wait,"  Dan Kirschner, executive director of the Northwest Gas Association, told us.

Natural gas vents, rises and dissipates into the air rapidly. While the U.S. Transportation Department rates underground natural gas pipelines the safest form of energy transportation, LNG, or liquefied natural gas, is natural gas that is cooled to minus-260° Fahrenheit until it becomes a liquid and then stored at essentially atmospheric pressure. Converting natural gas to LNG reduces its volume by about 600 times.

LNG is a super-cooled, clear, thin liquid. It must maintain its minus-260° temperature to remain a liquid; if any is spilled at the liquefaction site, it will very quickly evaporate.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.