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  HOME | Caribbean

Study Warns of Puerto Rico Pipeline’s Environmental Impact

SAN JUAN – The construction of a 148-kilometer (92-mile) gas pipeline in Puerto Rico, a project being pushed by the government of the Caribbean island, could have detrimental effects on the environment and negatively impact more than 200,000 people, a study says.

Biology professor Arturo Massol on Wednesday presented part of a study conducted by a group of environmentalists that says that building the gas pipeline could cause erosion, flooding, landslides and fires, among other things.

The project, also known as the Via Verde Pipeline, consists of burying the conduit at a depth of half a meter (1.5 feet) stretching from north to south across Puerto Rico.

“The construction of this gas pipeline puts the lives, health and property of thousands of Puerto Ricans at risk,” Massol said at a press conference.

The biologist said that the real risks from the pipeline demand that the government take action “above and beyond the mere fulfillment” of its duties and obligations.

Experts with the Shell oil company have estimated that a minimum security zone of between 200 and 400 meters (650 and 1,300 feet) must separate the pipeline from the surrounding population, Massol said.

The plans for the pipeline show that that recommendation is not being followed and that about 150,000 people live in the danger zone, Massol said.

The first phase of Via Verde will be completed this December, when Units 5 and 6 of Central Costa Sur power plant will begin using natural gas to produce energy.

The project, as it is currently conceived, will not be fully functional for nine years, Massol said.

The Puerto Rican government estimates that once the $74-million pipeline is in operation between $60 million and $100 million per year in fuel will be saved.

Massol, however, said that the project will not lead to a reduction in electricity rates for the Puerto Rican public.

He presented data from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration showing that from 1990 to 2009 more than 1,400 failures occurred in gas pipelines around the country.

“This record provides evidence that failures occur frequently with damage to property,” Massol said.

The type of gas pipeline that will be built in Puerto Rico is completely different from those that experienced accidents in San Bruno, California, and in Iran’s Mazdavand region, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, CEO Miguel Cordero said.

The project is intended to modify the current dependence on petroleum in Puerto Rico to generate 68 percent of the U.S. commonwealth’s electricity, while the rest comes from natural gas (23 percent) and coal (9 percent).

The plan is for about 49 percent of the island’s electricity by 2011 to be generated from natural gas, compared with 42 percent from petroleum and the rest from renewable sources.

By December 2014, 71 percent of Puerto Rico’s electricity is to be generated by natural gas, 12 percent from petroleum and the rest from renewable sources.

PREPA currently pays 10.37 cents per kilowatt-hour to buy fuel to generate energy, a cost that will drop to 5.49 cents when the state-run company replaces petroleum with natural gas, according to the firm’s calculations.

Building the Via Verde Pipeline was initially included in the energy plan of the 1993-2001 administration of former Gov. Pedro Rossello. EFE

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