Some safety aspects of the planned Delimara gas power station warrant more detailed study due to its close proximity to inhabited areas, according to a Dutch expert.
Hans Pasman, who has more than 40 years’ experience in the prevention of accidents from hazardous materials such as fossil fuels, lauded the government’s initiative to convert Malta’s power station to gas, which he described as very safe.
However, he said having a large storage facility of 140,000 cubic metres adjacent to the generation plant was not ideal.
He argued that the safest option would have been to supply the plant via a gas pipeline, due to the nearby Marsaxlokk and neighbouring localities.
Though the government has not excluded such a possibility and is waiting for a feasibility report on linking Malta with the European gas grid, it has nevertheless decided to have a large, floating storage tanker permanently moored at the southern end of Marsaxlokk harbour (pictured right).
Mr Pasman is a chemical engineer by profession and has been living in Malta since 2002, when he decided to settle here to supposedly retire.
However, at the age of 76, he is still very active as a research professor in process safety – the science of preventing fires, explosions and accidental chemical releases in facilities dealing with hazardous materials including gas installations.
Prof. Pasman said his interest was aroused when he learned about the government’s plans for a new Liquefied Natural Gas power station in Delimara.
Last October it was announced that the consortium Electro Gas Malta had been chosen to build it.
Speaking to Times of Malta, Prof. Pasman raised questions about the methods and approach taken in the Quantitative Assessment Report carried out as part of the Environmental Impact Statement, presented last month, on the planned plant.
He said there were no scientific studies on the hazards posed by such large quantities of LNG and that it was “rather presumptuous” of the report to state that any effects would not reach inhabited areas.
The report did not give sufficient weight to the possibility that a cloud of leaked gas from the storage facility would get sucked up by the combustion engine, with potentially catastrophic consequences, he said.
He questioned the mitigation measures, saying the reliability of a water curtain mentioned in the report was only studied on small-scale LNG clouds.
Prof. Pasman was also critical of the cloud dispersion model – intended to investigate the effects of any leaks on the surroundings – saying that it was not very reliable as it did not take into consideration the exact geographical features of the area.
He also called for a more detailed maritime risk assessment, remarking that the report considered the risks of ship-to-ship collisions in “the relative narrow and busy waterways near Marsaxlokk in a very rudimentary way”.
Another potential hazard identified by the Dutch professor was the unloading of fresh supply from an LNG tanker to the permanent storage vessel.
He questioned why the report did not consider the possibility of human error during this operation and what precautions would be in place in case any of the unloading arms broke loose due to the occasional strong currents from the southeast.
He also called for more detailed studies on possible hazards from the nearby dolphin station, used for oil bunkering.