Accidents happen. Just look at the recent Fukushima nuclear disaster or the Jolly Nero cargo ship that ploughed inexplicably into the Genoa port control tower, or the 9/11 world trade centre terrorist attack or even the infamous Chernobyl meltdown.
The new gas-fired Delimara Power Station looks more and more like a rushed job aimed to fulfill an electoral promise. This is very ill-advised. A new power station is a complex project. Too much haste in such an important issue could, god forbid, have tragic consequences on a large number of people.
This Power Station had already started off on the wrong foot anyway in 1991 when it was insensitively dumped bang opposite the picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk spoiling the view and polluting the air. At the time, many learned people were of the opinion that Hal Far would have been a far more appropriate location but the powers that be thought differently.
An LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) power station is a potential mega bomb. The danger is that, if a large quantity of gas manages to escape into the atmosphere, it could spread and catch fire. Its proximity to the population of Marsaxlokk could have tragic consequences. A gas leak can happen in many ways, by equipment failure, human error, terrorism, natural disaster, design error and ship collisions to name a few.
The fact is that LNG is all relatively new technology and there is simply not enough data available to analyze the hazards accurately. The Environmental Impact Statement is being carried out by a reputable firm of consultants and a Qualitative Risk Assessment (QRA) is included in it. The QRA stated that estimations had to be taken in order for the Risk Assessment to be carried out. In fact the whole EIS is peppered with qualifications such as “it is as yet unclear”, “limited detailed information” and “the level of details…is limited”. LNG accidents so far have been few, but it is a hazardous substance and a good past record is no guarantee for the future.
There are too many valid and unanswered questions about the potential for disaster. Was the QRA accurate enough, considering that no experimental data exists for a huge external gas leakage from the size of gas tank that will be used? What happens to a turbine’s operation if it sucks in uncontrolled amounts of gas from a leak inside the power station? Has the reliability of the fire fighting system been tested with these enormous quantities of gas? Have the possibilities and consequences of ship-to-ship collisions been adequately investigated? Was the alternative of having the floating storage tanks out of the bay discarded for financial reasons? Is it safe to transfer LNG between two 350 metre floating vessels under force 8 storm conditions?
Now that we have been promised a new, cleaner gas-fired power station, surely this would have been the ideal time for starting to restore the view from Marsaxlokk by placing it at Hal Far. In a few years’ time, the existing power station will have to be demolished anyway because it would have outlived its lifespan and the residents of Marsaxlokk will have their beautiful view restored. Placing the LNG storage tanks offshore on the Hurd Bank was an alternative that was discarded, possibly because of commercial or time constraints, or both. Yet another choice was to place the storage tanks outside the bay near the bunkering area round the corner near Hofra z-zghira, also discarded probably for the same reasons.
So we have a situation where we are going to have a new power station located close to a village and we are not quite sure how safe it is, but we think that it is probably quite safe. The impression one gets here is that the power station must be up and running by a certain date come what may. Let’s worry about safety when something dangerous happens. Government is pandering to development and political promises at the price of the environment and safety. This is an appeal to take a good hard look at the possibility of human life loss.
This project has all the makings of a quantum improvement in our power infrastructure, with reductions in both cost and pollution levels. Unfortunately the necessary studies are incomplete and public consultation has been superficial with insufficient professional input and other alternatives should have been properly studied as recommended in the Strategic Environmental Assessment of 2012. Unfortunately this free for all frenzy to push through reforms and changes in policies and plans has now become the rule not the exception. The reasons for this are open for speculation. Pardon the pun.
George Camilleri is Secretary General of Din l-Art Helwa