Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa local councils are questioning the validity of a risk assessment study for a proposed floating gas storage facility near the Delimara power station. In a joint report, the councils argued that the software model used to analyse gas cloud dispersions was based on meteorological data for the Spanish port of Cartagena, which bore no resemblance to Marsaxlokk bay.

Report authors Arthur Ciantar, an engineer, and Carmel Cacopardo, an architect and Alternattiva Demokratika MEP candidate, said the invalidity of the software model “automatically invalidates the results of the whole risk analysis”. Both of them have long served as consultants to the two councils.

They called for the storage ship to be relocated outside Marsaxlokk port where it posed no risk.

The report was submitted this week to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority in reaction to the environmental impact assessment for the proposed gas-fired plant at Delimara.

The authors contend that Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa residents welcomed the use of natural gas, deemed a cleaner option, for use in the power station but were primarily concerned with the offshore storage facility.

The two councils, both having Labour majorities, had vehemently opposed the use of heavy fuel oil in the BWSC plant. They both support the conversion to natural gas.

Liquefied natural gas will be stored on board a big ship that will be permanently moored at Delimara alongside a new jetty that has to be built.

The EIA author assumed no wind data existed for Marsaxlokk and, instead, used meteorological data from Cartagena, which he deemed to be similar to Marsaxlokk. However, Mr Ciantar and Mr Cacopardo insisted that the basic geography of both sites was different, suffice to say that Cartagena was surrounded to the east and west by hills that were much higher than Delimara point.

“It becomes imperative to ask the question as to how could one approximate the conditions in Marsaxlokk bay using Cartagena... in taking this line of action. [Roberto] Vaccari [the EIA expert who did the risk analysis] has, in fact, impaired the validity of the whole assessment.”

The report authors found it difficult to believe that no wind data was available for Marsaxlokk to cover the requirements of the gas study. They asked what wind data was used in previous studies carried out to analyse the impact of the BWSC power station built at Delimara a few years ago. Quoting from the EIA, Mr Ciantar and Mr Cacopardo noted that the accuracy of the results obtained from the software model depended on the accuracy of the meteorological data.

“This undermined the whole study as the data may not only be inaccurate but even more so totally unrepresentative... rendering the results invalid.”

They criticised the EIA for not taking into account the worst case scenario if a gas leakage occurred that led to an explosion.

“The occurrence of an accident, even if remote, remains a probability. It is not a certainty... rather than speaking of the probability of the occurrence one should concentrate on the worst case scenario... How many people will be expected to die? This question remains unanswered.”

The authors asked Mepa to instruct Electrogas Malta to make additional preparations for the relocation of the gas storage vessel to a suitable location outside the port of Marsaxlokk. At such a distance, they argued, a worst case scenario would have no effect on the people of Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa, their property, the power station, the Freeport and other installations in the area.

“The location of the LPG floating storage vessel within the port of Marsaxlokk can only be considered after a proper study has been carried out,” they insisted.

Feedback on the EIA closed yesterday and a public consultation meeting will be held on Monday at the Marsaxlokk primary school.

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