SAN JUAN – Environmentalists are protesting the risk of building a 150-kilometer (93-mile) pipeline in Puerto Rico because of possible natural disasters, a project that would save the country $1 billion annually in energy costs.
The earthquake that shook Japan last Friday and the ensuing tsunami have renewed the dispute in Puerto Rico over a controversial gas pipeline that the government wants to have up and running in little more than a year.
The tsunami in Japan shows the risks implicit in the gas pipeline, with which the government seeks to substitute natural gas for oil in the power plants of the state-run Electric Energy Authority, or AEE, biology professor Arturo Massol told Efe on Monday.
The close to 150 kilometers (93 miles) of pipeline to be contructed, if the project is authorized by the Army Corps of Engineers, will largely be located on the island’s north coast, a sandy area given to landslides, Massol, leader of the Casa Pueblo environmental group, said.
“A pipeline cannot be stabilized in that area, even if it’s buried at a depth of 1 meter (3 feet) underground,” Massol said.
The government’s green “Via Verde” project would likewise be built in areas susceptible to flooding should a tsunami strike, Massol said.
The reason why the government wants to launch the gas pipeline as soon as possible is simply to dish out millionaire contracts to private companies, Massol said.
Environmental grupos estimate that if the gas pipeline is built, more than 200,000 people living near it will be exposed to accidents from a hypothetical gas leak in case of a fissure.
But the director of the AEE’s Via Verde project, Francisco Lopez, countered by saying that the recent disaster in Japan did not cause breaks in any of the pipelines transporting natural gas there.
Lopez, who also recalled that there has never been a tsunami in Puerto Rico, said that the fact that the pipeline is underground reduces to a great extent the possibility of breakage or accidents.
He said that the design of the pipeline is now ready and that in April 2012 the pipeline could begin its first operations, once Puerto Rico’s Army Corps of Engineers give the project the go-ahead.
“We’re working more strictly than the security regulations” require, Lopez said.
The $74 million project plans to make Puerto Rico less dependent for its electricity supply on oil, which currently provides 68 percent, while the rest comes from natural gas with 23 percent and coal with 9 percent. EFE