Better safe than sorry

Delimara floating gas stirage terminal

Its been twelve months since Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party pointed out that safety and risk assessment will be the sticking point for the liquid natural gas (LNG) driven power station at Delimara. We were then told  that Labour’s plan had already factored in all issues pertaining to the Seveso Directive.

Well, plans have been changed. What were originally plans to have land based LNG storage facilities have been changed to a floating gas storage facility. The issue of safety has however remained. It was unaddressed then and is still not addressed now.

Other countries have taken the matter quite seriously. In Livorno, for example,  as a result of proper risk assessment studies a floating gas storage facility of a size comparable to that being considered for Delimara was sited 22.5 kilometres from the coastline. In addition a security area of an 8 kilometre radius was established. This security area which is under strict control to ensure that no unauthorised access occurs serves the purpose of reducing and containing the damage caused by a possible incident.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday February 22, 2014

No such security areas have been established in the Delimara proposal such that whilst the probability of an incident has been identified as 1 in 10,000 years its impacts on the residential community as well on economic facilities could be devastating if such an accident occurs.

A thorough reading of the risk assessment study carried out by Roberto Vaccari and forming part of the Environment Impact Assessment for the Delimara LNG driven power station clearly identifies serious risks. Whilst Vaccari defines his study as being of a preliminary nature his conclusions, however, are clear enough pointers that the apprehension of 91% of the local population documented in the Delimara project Social Impact Assessment is more than justified.

Roberto Vaccari, for example, concludes on the possibility of an incident as a result of which a cloud of gas accumulates in the area in front of the Freeport Terminal, the fairway,  precisely where ships manoeuvre prior to their berthing to unload their shipment of containers. Just this possibility, on its own, should have been sufficient to lead to the conclusion that the proposed solution for the generation of electricity through the use of gas stored on a ship is a serious threat to the secure operation of the Freeport Terminal.

Roberto Vaccari justifiably points out that Marsaxlokk Bay, very close to the residential communities of Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk,  already harbours most of the Maltese sites subject to Major Hazard Regulatory control under the provisions if the EU Seveso Directive. The Delimara Power Station itself, the Birżebbuġa fuel storage depot, Oil Tanking facilities, the Wied Dalam installation, the Mediterranean Offshore Bunkering and the San Lucian facilities as well as the recent addition of the Gasco facilities at Bengħajsa are too close for comfort. Roberto Vaccari points out to the domino effect potential which could be triggered on each of these sites by an LNG incident at Delimara.

The mooring of the floating gas storage unit along the Delimara coast also gives rise to a serious conflict with existing uses in Marsaxlokk Bay. It conflicts with the operational requirements of the Freeport Terminal situated at the entrance to the Bay. The conflicts are of a navigational nature as the area currently utilised by container vessels to manoeuvre until they berth, the fairway, overlaps with the navigational requirements of the floating gas storage unit in particular during refuelling. It is known that container vessels at the Freeport Terminal do require tugboat assistance particularly when strong North-Easterly winds are prevalent. The navigational requirements in such circumstances for an increased activity require much more space (and tugboats) than is available in Marsaxlokk Bay. As far as is known this has not yet been considered.

Both the authorities as well as the EIA have also been particularly silent on the impacts which the floating gas storage unit will have on the fishing community in Marsaxlokk. It is unofficially known that plans are in hand to severely curtail all maritime movements within Marsaxlokk Bay during refuelling of the floating gas storage unit. The refuelling process which may take up to 48 hours  ten times annually will be a severe handicap not just on the operations of the Freeport Terminal but it may also deal a fatal blow to the livelihood of the fishing community at Marsaxlokk.

All of the above should have led to the conclusion that the unloading and storage of LNG at Marsaxlokk Port is an unnecessary source of danger to both residents and the country’s economy.

Malta is still in time to seriously explore other options. Ignoring political pique the only practical solution is to utilise a gas pipeline which a PN led Government had unfortunately refused when offered by Italy in 1999.

What is sure is that safety is priceless. It is better to be safe than sorry.