A few minutes earlier the board turned down a motion filed by Mr Callus calling for the postponement of the vote until after a Maritime Impact Assessment is carried out and until the Papadakis report is updated with the relevant data. The motion was seconded by Mr Vella.
The decision, which was met with a round of applause by members of the public, came after the longest ever MEPA board meeting, which was characterized by bouts of insult hurling, booing and shouting at anyone who spoke against the project. MEPA chairman Vince Cassar struggled to try and keep order and at one point had to call in the police to remove a man who had called Mr Callus a “pulcinell”.
PM told MEPA works would proceed regardless of appeal
The meeting kicked off at 10am with the MEPA chairman reading out a letter sent by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat saying that, if the project was approved works would carry on even if an appeal was filed. Later on during the day MEPA lawyer Robert Abela explained that this did not mean that there was not right to appeal but noted that, nonetheless, there were no registered objectors, so no one was actually eligible to appeal.
In a statement the Office of the Prime Minister said it wanted the application to be processed and decided upon by MEPA according to the law while adding that nobody intervened in the application process. The prime minister said that “now that the decision will be taken by Mepa’s board according to law, the same law makes it clear that works cannot be halted in the event a suspension of the works is sought from any interested party during the period of appeal and this is due to the fact that the development is one of strategic importance.”
The full statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister in Maltese on the day of the MEPA hearing reads as follows:
Fir-rigward tal-applikazzjoni li qed tiġi diskussa quddiem il-MEPA dwar l-impjant tal-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku li jaħdem bil-gass, il-Gvern ried li l-applikazzjoni tiġi proċessata u deċiża mill-MEPA skont il-provedimenti tal-liġi u ma intervjena bl-ebda mod fil-proċess tal-applikazzjoni.
Issa ġaladarba l-applikazzjoni tkun determinata mill-Bord tal-MEPA skont il-liġi, l-istess provedimenti tal-liġi jagħmluha ċara li x-xogħlijiet ma jistgħux jitwaqqfu f’każ li jkun hemm talba għal sospensjoni tax-xogħlijiet minn xi parti interessata fi stadju ta’ appell quddiem it-Tribunal dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar u dan peress li tali żvilupp huwa ta’ importanza strateġika u allura jinkwadra fit-termini tal-Artikolu 41(3) tal-kap 504 tal-Liġijiet ta’ Malta, fejn hemm provdut li t-Tribunal m’għandux il-poter iwaqqaf xogħlijiet approvati mill-MEPA u li jkunu ta’ importanza strateġika.
Tajjeb infakkru li kien gvern Nazzjonalista li introduċa u uża ħafna drabi dan id-dispost fil-liġi u allura l-aġir tal-Oppożizzjoni huwa intiż biss biex jostakola l-proġett.
Maritime Impact Assessment not carried out
The actual meeting started off with a presentation by Enemalta officials who explained the benefits of having a gas-fired power station. But it was at this time that Enemalta confirmed that a Maritime Impact Assessment has not been carried out yet. Enemalta project manager David Galea explained that credit rating agency Moody’s said that, as things stand Enemalta is losing around €60 million a year. At the same time utility tariffs are very high.
Project architect Peter Zammit gave detailed information on the Marsaxlokk port, its different uses and the routes taken by ships entering the Freeport. He said that the FSU will not affect ship traffic but added that ships hooking onto the Has-Saptan refueling dolphin will be at a distance of less than 100 metres to the LNG storage ship.
Architect Paul Gauci, who coordinated the Environmental Impact Assessment, explained that the power plant will have three 75 metre chimneys and three 30 metre chimneys. He said that maritime studies were based on thousands of ship movements around the Freeport but admitted that a full Maritime Impact Assessment still has to be carried out.
The Planning Directorate gave its seal of approval but asked for mitigation measures to be taken to counteract the FSU’s visual impact.
Papadakis says risk is minimal
Dr George Papadakis, who drafted the OHSA risk assessment report, said that the risk in the project’s inner zone is 1 fatality per 100,000 years. In the outer zone the risk is even less. But a final study based on actual operational data will be done at a later stage.
He explained the benefits of Liquefied Natural Gas over other fuel types and said that the gas evaporates quickly and rises up since it is lighter than air. A gas cloud emanating from a leak in the FSU would rise quickly. In the case of an ignition the gas cloud would burn slowly and no smoke would be produced.
PN board member says reports inconclusive
During the final questions by the members of the MEPA board, PN MP Ryan Callus quizzed several Enemalta, OHSA and Electrogas officials. In reply to his questions an Electrogas official confirmed that vehicles could be driven up the jetty but strict security procedures will be followed. Mr Callus insisted that some information is still lacking and he felt uncomfortable at having to vote before all the data was presented and all questions answered.
When asked by Mr Callus, Dr George Papadakis said that there is an 8% chance of a gas cloud reaching the power station. If that happened, the gas cloud would almost certainly be ignited since the power station is considered to be a constant ignition source.
Ray Bugeja letter, MEPA reply read out
Earlier during the meeting, the official letter presented in court by Ray Bugeja and MEPA’s reply were read. Mr Bugeja had called on MEPA to postpone its decision until after a Maritime Impact Assessment is carried out. But the planning authority’s legal office said that no single person had registered as an objector to the project, not even Mr Bugeja. Therefore it could not understand how Mr Bugeja and his wife had filed the official letter.
The board secretary also read out a letter written by National Fisheries Cooperative President Marco Carabott, who said that the cooperative disassociated itself from Mr Bugeja’s comments. The executive committee had not given Mr Bugeja permission to make such comments.
The second letter was writted by Ghaqda Koperattiva tas-Sajd President Joe Demicoli, who also disassociated himself from Mr Bugeja’s comments.
After all letters were read out, the MEPA Chairman called on members of Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar to speak since the NGO had filed a complaint, but no member was present at the time.
Sparks fly at the MEPA hearing
Today’s MEPA hearing on the Delimara LNG power station started off calmly but sparks began flying as soon as MEPA Chairman Vince Cassar opened up the floor to the public.
Mr Cassar said that only a few minutes could be spared since there were over 20 people who wanted to speak and the hearing has already been going on for more than four and a half hours. Former PN Minister George Pullicino objected to this and said that it would only be fair to let people speak after having had to listen to the technical reports for a number of hours.
Marsaxlokk Mayor Edric Micallef, who was the first speaker, insisted that the Local Council always prioritised environmental issues. He said that many agreed with a gas-fired power station, but the project also needs a supply of fuel. He said that the Local Council is in favour of the project but urged the government to construct a gas pipeline as soon as possible.
Maritime Expert and PN Executive President Ann Fenech, who is representing Mr Bugeja and his wife, asked what would happen when rough seas hit Marsaxlokk. What effect would high waves have on the FSU? What will the risk of collision between container ships and the FSU be? And how would port operations be affected? In it’s reply MEPA had tried to imply that Mr Bugeja was exaggerating but many important questions were not being answered.
AD Deputy Chairman Carmel Cacopardo said that the EIA terms of reference made it clear that a Comprehensive Risk Assessment study had to be inclued but a Maritime Impact Assessment was not carried out. This means that the Environmental Impact Assessment has not been concluded. Mr Cacopardo said that an offshore solution would have only posed risks to the ship but the proposed solution also poses risks to the power station and the residents. “It would have made more sense to go for the option that does not pose risks to poeple.”
Harbour Master David Bugeja said he was confident that port operations in Marsaxlokk and Birzebbugia would not be seriously affected. Captain Bugeja said that operational procedures could be tweaked if the need arises.
PN MP George Pullicino argued that an offshore Floating Storage and Re-gasification Unit would have been a safer option. He insisted that a pipeline viability study should have been done before a decision was taken. He also asked whether the FSU will be self-propelled and can be quickly taken out of the harbour.
The MEPA chairman had to call for order after many members of the public repeatedly booed and shouted while Mr Pullicino was speaking.
Next up was Dutch Professor Hans Passman, an LNG expert who was commissioned to draw up a study by environmental NGO Din l-Art Helwa, said that a gas cloud igniting over Marsaxlokk could have devastating consequences. He said that the best option was to have an FSRU.
Carmelo Bugeja, a resident of Marsaxlokk, said that people have had enough of scaremongering and insisted that the real damage was done “by those who built the first power station at Delimara,” and claimed that some relatives suffer from respiratory problems caused by the power station. “My message to Mr Pullicino is that we did not find a power station in the yellow pages,” he said, to the delight of many present in the hall.
The meeting further descended into chaos when another man, Anton Vella, addressed the board. Mr Vella said that he had no agenda and attended the meeting to be better informed. But he was repeatedly interrupted by other members of the public. At one point the MEPA Chairman had to intervene and warned that he would close the meeting to the public if there were more interruptions and shouting.
Next up was Louis Tanti, Secretary of the Zejtun 25 November fireworks factory, which is located in Tas-Silg, asked for assurances that the factory would not be closed down. MEPA Chairman Vince Cassar said that the studies showed that there is no need to relocate the complex.
PN MP Anthony Bezzina asked if a safety zone would be imposed around the FSU during refuelling and whether this would affect Freeport operations. He also asked whether permits for fireworks in Marsaxlokk and Birzebbugia will still be granted when the FSU is in place. Mr Bezzina was also heckled by members of the crowd.
PN EP candidate Therese Comodini Cachia said that nothing had been mentioned on the Social Impact Assessment. This is not all about ships and gas tanks but also on the impact that such things will have on the everyday lives of Marsaxlokk and Birzebbugia residents.
Another Marsaxlokk resident, Leonard Incorvaia, warned the MEPA board members that he would hold them responsible should his property suffer any damages from the project.
The members of the MEPA board then started asking questions to the experts present in the hall. But things took a turn for the worse when someone from the seating area shouted “pulcinell” at PN MP Ryan Callus, who then refused to continue until the person who had insulted him left the room. The MEPA chairman called in the police and asked them to remove the person responsible from the room. A man, identified by PN MP George Pullicino, was escorted out of the room. “It was not me but I will do everything for this government,” he shouted as he left the room.
Mr Callus then aksed if the jetty leading to the FSU will be accessible by car, to which Enemalta and Electrogas officials replied that vehicles could be driven up the jetty but strict security procedures will be followed.
Mr Callus insisted that some information is still lacking and he feels unconfortable at the fact that MEPA has to decide today when many questions remain unanswered.
In reply to another question by Mr Callus, project manager David Galea said that the LNG tanker would leave port when a pipeline is installed but the jetty and the onshore re-gasification unit would be kept. In this way the power plant would not be solely dependent on the pipeline.
No assurances on Marsaxlokk fireworks
He also asked whether Marsaxlokk and Birzebbugia fireworks would still be permitted. The MEPA chairman said that applications would have to be filed as usual at police stations and risk studies would have to be carried out at the time. He admitted that no assurances can be given at present.
When asked by Mr Callus, Dr George Papadakis said that there is an 8% chance of a gas cloud reaching the power station. If that happened the gas cloud would almost certainly be ignited since the power station is considered to be a constant ignition source.
Mr Callus proceeded to file a motion calling on the MEPA board to postpone its decision until a Maritime Impact Assessment is carried out and Dr Papadakis clarifies questions raised by his original report. The motion was seconded by board member Alex Vella.
The MEPA chairman asked the media not to film or photograph the vote on the motion. PN MP George Pullicino immediately objected but Mr Cassar insisted that as Chairman he has the power to decide on the procedure. He also argued that this was common procedure. The motion was not approved.
No assurances for Marsaxlokk fireworks enthusiasts – MEPA chairman
Two days after the hearing, MEPA chairman Vince Cassar admitted that the planning authority could not give assurances that fireworks in Marsaxlokk and Birzebbuga will be permitted once the new LNG power station and Floating Storage Unit become operational.
The issue of fireworks was raised at different times during Monday’s MEPA board meeting, during which the permits for the gas-fired Delimara plant were approved. The first to raise the issue was the secretary of the Zejtun 25 November fireworks club, which has a fireworks factory near tas-Silg in Marsaxlokk. Louis Tanti asked if it was true that the fireworks factory would have to be relocated. In reply, Mr Cassar insisted that the studies done so far had not identified the need to relocate the complex as at is not located inside the set safety zones.
Later on during the meeting the MEPA chairman was asked on fireworks again by PN MP Ryan Callus, who is a MEPA board member, as well as by PN MP Anthony Bezzina, who attended the hearing.
The Nationalist MPs asked what would happen with regard to the Marsaxlokk and Birzebbugia fireworks factories. Mr Cassar insisted that applicants would have to follow the same procedure as today and apply at the local police station. The police would then have to decide on whether to approve the permits or not, while keeping the LNG project in mind. Risk studies would have to be carried out, said Mr Cassar.
When pressed further on the subject by Mr Callus, the MEPA chairman admitted that no assurances could be given. MEPA cannot guarantee that fireworks displays will be allowed.
Risk assessment sources say fireworks could be disastrous
During the past two weeks, The Malta Independent on Sunday investigated the issue but was given very vague replies by the related authorities. They also indicated that no studies have been carried out thus far and none will be done until “the time comes.”
The Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA) also failed to clarify comments it had previously sent to this paper on the fireworks permit and said that “it had nothing to add” when asked which authority will decide on fireworks permits after the LNG project is completed.
Sources within the risk assessment industry told this paper that fireworks and the burning debris they produce could very well be a source of ignition that could set off an explosion in the remote possibility of a serious gas leak from the Floating Storage Unit, the pipeline or the onshore re-gasification unit.
On Monday, Dr George Papadakis, who drafted the Risk Assessment Report for OHSA, said that there is a 7 to 8% chance that a gas cloud escaping the FSU would reach the power station. Once there, the chances of an ignition would be close to 100% as the power station is considered to be a constant ignition source. However he also insisted that the possibility of a gas cloud reaching Marsaxlokk is more remote since it would likely be ignited before reaching the shoreline.
The latest issue of The Malta Independent on Sunday also carried comments by Andrew Clifton, general manager of the Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO), who agreed that a detailed risk assessment on fireworks should be carried out. When asked if it is advisable to let off fireworks at a distance of less than a kilometre from the FSU and less than 600 metres from the power plant, Mr Clifton said that “it is difficult to advise without knowing all the facts and conducting a detailed risk assessment.” The SIGTTO general manager also confirmed that “risks are increased when a cargo transfer is taking place” but insisted that “after 50 years of successful LNG shipping commercial operations, we can say that we have no doubt that these risks can be managed safely and reduced to an acceptable level by following industry best practice”.