Request for deadline extension perfectly warranted
The long-awaited publication of the risk assessments associated with the controversial LNG tanker that will feed the new Delimara power station were, at long last, published yesterday.
From the outset, this newspaper welcomes the fact that they have been published. Nor can we criticise the fact that the documentation made public consists of dozens of reports replete with several thousands of pages of minute detail.
These are extremely positive facts that lead one to believe that literally no stone has been left unturned in an effort to attain full safety and full disclosure.
Although the more cynical members of the public out there will question the sheer enormity of the data released, and argue that yesterday’s release was as voluminous as it was because the aim is to obfuscate and real problems that lie within; the simple fact of the matter is that what was published yesterday was published as part of a public consultation exercise.
Another simple fact is that no common member of the public could possibly be expected to read, digest, interpret and analyse those thousands of pages within the allotted 30day timeframe – possibly not even with the help of a team of engineers or risk assessment specialists.
Not even the Opposition, which has such a stake in its opposition to the project and which has the resources that it does at its disposal, would be able to do that - let alone the average citizen burning the midnight oil in their dens, studies, kitchen tables or living rooms.
The Opposition Leader yesterday wrote to the Environment and Resources Authority to request an extension to the 30-day public consultation period and he was quite right to have done so.
It is, after all, not only the Opposition that needs more time to go through those documents with the fine tooth comb that they deserve, but so do the residents of the localities that will host the LNG tanker, namely the residents of Marsaxlokk and Birzebbuga.
After all, this is no regular public consultation exercise. It is an exercise aimed at determining the safety of what is the most potentially dangerous industrial facility in the country.
Some of the reports go into finite detail on the hazards that could affect the power plant – such as lighting strikes, earthquakes, soil subsidence, port operations, aircraft crashes and terrorism.
Other reports published yesterday include a wave penetration study, a study on the manoeuvres expected by the LNG carrier in Marsaxlokk and a report on the FSU’s storm mooring system and how it reacts under different wave patterns, amongst several others.
Still more reports map out several hundred accident scenarios, such as small and large gas leaks on board the FSU or at the regasification unit and their possible consequences, which include flash fires, vapour cloud explosions and jet fires.
The different scenarios are classified according to their likelihood of occurring but the data is very complex and difficult to read without professional guidance and a substantial amount of time.
Again, while we cannot fault the operators for publishing the full gamut of the studies, more time is needed if people, or even political parties and media houses, are to make decent sense of those 15,000 pages.
After all, once the new power station project has already been delayed so long for reasons best known to the government and the operators, a further and comparatively slight delay for the public to be able to go through the volumes of documentation is a drop in the ocean.
If the request is denied, it will simply make people more sceptical of the project itself. And that is something the government certainly does not need at this delicate juncture.