A WSM member looks at why the people of Rossport don't take Shell's assurances that the high pressure gas pipeline being imposed on them is safe. Of primary concern to the people of Rossport for the last 6 years has been their personal safety. Many other very important issues of national importance have been raised but this still is at the core of the struggle. Until very recently it was proposed that gas would be pumped, untreated, straight from the field through the pipe and by houses many of which are less than seventy metres away. Never in history has gas been “transmitted” through an inhabitated area at completely uneven and unpredictable pressure up to a massive 345 bars.
People were to be used as guinea pigs in a cynical game of risk designed purely and completely to save money.
A massive campaign of public pressure has altered “the stakes” in the game somewhat. The most recent “independent” report from Advantica consultants (1) has recommended that the gas be treated when it comes to shore to even out the pressure and reduce the potential maximum to 144 bars.
It is important to stress that even this is still utterly unprecedented for a gas transmission pipeline through an inhabited area.
For example In August 2000 a pipeline ruptured in Carlsbad, New Mexico, incinerating an unfortunate family of twelve camping 230 metres away, and fire services could not get within 1.2 kilometres (1200 metres) because of the intense radiated heat!
The pressure there was 46 bar. (2)
This “reduced pressure” is still utterly unacceptable!
As noted on the shell to sea campaign website (http://www.corribsos.com/index.php?id=700)
A full-bore rupture on a 20'' pipeline at the reduced maximum pressure of 144 bar would have the following impact on houses and people;
· Any house within 80 metres will be burned
· Any house up to 166 metres could be burned
· Any person within 57 metres will be killed
· Any person up to 203 metres could be killed
Further more Advantica will only stand by their calculations up to 120 bar (short of the maximum 144 proposed) and the above estimates are based on just one experiment conducted at just 60 bar. Most permanently inhabited houses in Rossport are barely 70 metres from the pipeline, and anyone travelling the road will be from 30 metres down to 1.2 metres from the pipeline at any given time!
How ever pressure is just one factor.
Statistics on accidents worldwide strongly indicate that external factors both human and natural and pipeline corrosion are by far the bigger factor in causing pipeline accidents. For example the US statistics for gas transmission pipeline accidents (http://ops.dot.gov/stats/NGTRAN05.HTM for 2005) list all sorts of natural and human “caused” disasters (i.e. ones that didn’t arise through pipeline pressure or gas temperature in and of itself) For example 46 incidents were due to heavy rains and floods and 8 from earth movement and 29 from corrosion compared with only 2 from temperature and 4 from “body of pipe”.
Dr Richard Kuprew of Accufacts, the consultants who drew up the Centre For Public Inquiry report, has also done a detailed commentary on Advantica’s report. And the weak points are, surprise surprise, to be found in the area of corrosion and ground movement (never forget this pipe is going through unstable, acidic bog)
Says Kuprew: "We agree with Advantica's recommendation to re-evaluate the internal corrosion rate prediction, and advise that such prediction methods consider that the onshore production pipeline: 1) has been exposed to the elements for quite some time, 2) may sit in inhibited water for an extended period of time, and 3) will not be periodically pigged with a cleaning pig. All of these factors can significantly increase the likelihood of accelerated selective internal corrosion sites, especially on a gas production pipeline."
(From The Village Magazine May 4th 2006 http://www.villagemagazine.ie/article.asp?sid=1&sud=4&aid=1763)
Further Advantica themselves also note in their introduction
"However peat is one of the most difficult materials in which to construct pipelines"
And further Dr Richard Kuprew for Accufacts in the above article notes that both reports agree on the need for more research on this:
"Our very detailed system analyses seldom require volumes of additional information to address very specific key "system critical" questions. It is our practice that, should certain information be unavailable to complete a thorough analysis, we indicate those areas of information deficiency in our report.
Clear examples illustrating this point are the identification in our Corrib report of further load analysis needed for the pipeline in peat environments, as well as the cycle frequency potentials that can be associated with third-party damage on thick-walled pipe. Accufacts does not raise these clarification issues to be argumentative, but to stress the importance of the concepts that both Accufacts and Advantica raise as independent neutral observers regarding important safety concerns on this project."
Considering this still massive pressure even if Shell accept the reduction to an even 144 bar (they haven’t as yet!) and the pretty close to unknown consequences of building high pressure gas pipelines through peat bogs we are looking at an insane game of dice with human life. But it must always be bourne in mind that it is much cheaper then processing the gas of shore. And at the end of the day this is all that matters – right?
(1) In the business of “consulting” it is pretty difficult to find any one who doesn’t earn their bread and butter from oil and gas companies in the final analysis.
The Advantica report can be found at http://www.dcmnr.gov.ie/NR/rdonlyres/2C9E7E78-C18E-481C...s.pdf
(2) What’s all this bar stuff anyways? OK 1 Barr is roughly the air pressure in a car tyre.
The maximum pressure in an ordinary board gas transmission pipeline is about 4 bar. High pressure Bord Gais transmission pipelines in Ireland must adhere to ‘sales gas’ standards i.e. cleaned, odorised gas with pressure less than 80 bar and a mandatory separation distance of 70 metres from dwellings to conform with the NSAI code of practice.) see link for an excellent documentary from Revolt video (http://revoltvideo.blogspot.com/)