The planning authority has not taken into consideration a proposal to have the controversial LNG tanker located outside Marsaxlokk Bay despite the suggestion having been made out of deep safety concerns during public consultation.

The proposal was made by environment NGOs, experts and local councils who are worried about having the floating gas storage unit, which is to feed the new Delimara power station, berthed so close to the town.

A Mepa official yesterday told Times of Malta they were aware of the proposal but the option had not been studied because it did not form part of the development proposal submitted by Enemalta.

“We are duty bound to study what is being proposed and placing the floating storage unit out at sea is not part of the proposal. Therefore, we have not studied this option in the processing of this permit,” the officials said.

A flammable gas cloud can travel to the Delimara power station and possibly find an ignition point

The planning authority has earmarked March 24 to discuss the application for the new power station.

The Environmental Impact Study commissioned by the applicant, Enemalta, did not present the option of locating the gigantic gas tanker at sea but presented three optional locations inside the port not far from the power plant and in the vicinity of Marsaxlokk.

The FSU will store 132,000 cubic metres of liquefied gas, which experts, environmental NGOs and the local councils of Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa say should be kept at a safer distance from residential areas by anchoring the vessel at sea.

They cite a similar facility off Livorno located 22 kilometres away from land.

According to the environment impact assessment, all three in-port options presented by the applicants pose some kind of risk if a gas cloud were to escape the storage facility, due to its proximity to the power plant.

“The comparison between the three options using the extension of the gas cloud contour, demonstrates that for the three options a flammable gas cloud can travel to the Delimara power station and possibly find an ignition point,” the impact study says.

The less-risky option – that of having the power plant placed on the southern side of the existing power station with an FSU adjacent to it – was found to be the preferred choice. This in order to “minimise the individual risk to the population as well as to minimise the damage to the Delimara power station in case of a flash-fire”.

“However, the risk assessment indicates that such locations may have problems from a nautical perspective given that such location may lead to an increase in the probabilities of a collision with a manoeuvring ship or for damage in the FSU itself due to high waves, storms and other atmospheric phenomena against which the tanker would not be protected.”

In its reaction to the impact study, Mepa’s Environment Protection Directorate noted the conclusions of the preliminary quantitative risk assessment and agreed that both nautical and harbour risk assessments are to be carried out by the applicant.

“Furthermore, a more detailed quantitative risk assessment would also be required to enable the determination of risk zones around the power station.”

Although the risk of a gas cloud escaping the FSU and being ignited is minimal, experts have warned that an explosion inside the port and close to the power station would have a devastating impact.

In an interview with Times of Malta a few weeks ago, Hans Pasman, a Dutch expert in LNG, argued that the safest option would be to supply the plant via a gas pipeline.

He said that the EIA conducted on behalf of the developer did not give sufficient weight to the possibility that a cloud of leaked gas from the storage facility would get sucked up by the power station’s combustion engines, with potential catastrophic consequences.

Comments on the environmental impact study:

Marsaxlokk local council:

“It would be prudent to consider the mooring of the LNG gas carrier outside the port of Marsaxlokk. Re-gasification will occur on the vessel and the gas transferred by a submarine pipeline to the power station plant.

“This option presents a number of advantages, including: any risks that might arise from gas leakages or spills are reduced; possible restrictions of ship movements within the port, including oil tankers that will for a period of time continue to berth at Delimara power station, will be eliminated; the laying of a submarine pipeline and anchoring facilities of the LNG gas carrier outside the port will replace the need to dredge the port to permit berthing of the storage carrier and also the supply carrier, and the need to construct mooring facilities will be eliminated.”

Edward Mallia, environmental expert:

“Serious consideration should be given to locating the floating storage on the seaward side of Delimara peninsula to remove visual impacts. This may also facilitate the supply of LNG by tanker.

“The facility would only be exposed to north-easterlies that are not very frequent and exhibit only long (if high) swells.

“Anchoring techniques have been well mastered, even in harsh North Sea conditions.

“A fixed, adequately, insulated link to the re-gasifier on land should be possible, if the re-gasifier itself were not on the ship.”

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