Scenario 10

Societal Risk Assessment

The city of Boston has an active LNG (liquified natural gas) facility very close to the heart of downtown. For part of the year, huge tankers bring super-cooled natural gas several times a month right through Boston Harbor. While they are offloading and re-gasifying the supplies, they run the risk that a gas leak might be ignited by an unintended spark and cause a massive fire or catastrophic explosion. Natural gas is a crucial element of Boston's power supply and LNG is a key component.

The state government and various regional authorities are concerned about the risks associated with transporting LNG through a busy harbor, but they feel that the risks are under control. Assume that you are in charge of Boston Harbor Associates (BHA), a not-for-profit organization committed to protecting and restoring the natural environment of Boston Harbor. The Harbor has a series of beautiful but neglected islands within close proximity of the shore and these have been BHA's priority to date. You don't agree that the risks associated with LNG are acceptable. You have decided that a new risk assessment needs to be prepared that will do a better job of spelling out all the risks associated with the LNG plant. One of the things that concerns you is that the previous risk assessment (done decades ago when the LNG terminal was first built) assumes that everything that can and should be done to manage risks (i.e. carefully guiding the tankers through the harbor, maintaining tight security at the terminal, testing emergency evacuation procedures, etc.) is being done. A good risk assessment doesn't just estimate what could go wrong (and what the impacts would be if they did), it also looks closely at how well risks are being managed.

How would you make your case for a new risk assessment to the relevant state and regional agencies who have formal oversight responsibility? Who should do the risk assessment? How should you handle the issues of risk perception that are also at stake? A number of people, including many of your own members, are worried that raising the specter of the poorly managed risks associated with LNG will scare the public and turn groups against your organization. How do you propose to deal with this concern?


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