Part of an offshore pier serving liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers collapsed into the Chesapeake Bay at Cove Point, Md., after ice damaged two concrete pilings last Wednesday, according to the company that operates the pier.

The damage will prevent tankers from using the pier's north loading berth, according to the Coast Guard. However, a spokesman for Columbia Gas System Inc. said tankers can use a second berth at the pier so gas deliveries will not be curtailed.

A tanker from Algeria will begin using the second berth today or tomorrow, according to the company spokesman, Bruce Quayle.

Although environmentalists have argued that ice damage or an accident could trigger a disastrous LNG explosion, Quayle said Wednesday's damage failed to prove the facility unsafe.

"A massive accumulation of ice just happened to hit at the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.

The Cove Point LNG Terminal, a $350 million facility that opened less than a year ago, is located 60 miles southeast of Washington. The gas that is unloaded and processed there moves through pipelines to consumers in a seven-state region.

Washington Gas Light Co., which serves the Washington area, receives some of this LNG -- but it is less than 10 percent of the total amount of gas that the company provides to its customers here.

LNG is ordinary cooking and heating gas chilled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit so it becomes a liquid. At that temperature, LNG takes up 1/ 600th of the space it does as a gas and shipping it becomes economical.

The LNG that comes into Cove Point is liquefied in Algerian plants and shipped aboard shohisticated, highly insulated tankers that, with the exception of aircraft carriers, are the most expensive vessels on earth.

The Coast Guard has set up special rules for giving LNG tankers a wide berth for fear that one will collide with another ship, allowing the LNG to vaporize and possibly be ignited into a huge fireball.

Quayle said Wednesday's damage affected a 25-foot section of catwalk at the north end of the offshore pier where the LNG tankers dock. He said the section collapsed after its supports were knocked out by the ice.

The damage will take several weeks to repair, Quayle said. There was no damage to the pipes that run under-water for more than a mile from the pier to the shoreline, he said.