The Little Tuscan Town Confronting A Gas Ship

Credits: Ronan Furuta/Unsplash

The tiny Tuscan town facing down a gas ship, states a Guardian news source.

Hurriedly installed regasification unit

People in the sleepy port of Piombino are concerned about the effects of the hurriedly installed regasification unit on its marine ecosystem.

Calling the Golar Tundra, which docked here at in March, a ship is not technically accurate. It’s actually a floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU), whose job is to take liquefied gas (LNG) transported by carriers, return it to a gaseous state and then feed it into the gas network. It will begin operation in May, and Italy’s government wants to “park” it in Piombino’s port for at least three years. But the town’s citizens, and mayor, have other ideas. Along with environmental activists from across Italy, they have set out to block the project.

So far their efforts have been unsuccessful. The Italian authorities see the ship as vital to filling the energy shortfall caused by the war in Ukraine. Natural gas is Italy’s primary energy source, but now that it has cut its dependency on Russian imports it is scrambling for alternative sources.

The Golar Tundra, with a storage capacity of 170,000 cubic metres and the ability to regasify about 5bn cubic metres of gas every year, offers a way to bring in gas without the need for a new pipeline.

Skip environmental assessment studies

The Italian government is in such a rush that it has decided to skip environmental assessment studies. And that’s what scares local people.

“We have nothing against regasification terminals, as long they’re safe. But we don’t like that this project was done without any evaluation of its environmental impact,” says the mayor, Francesco Ferrari. “We want to know if it’s safe.”

On the streets of Piombino this sentiment is widespread. Shop windows and the balconies of houses are covered with signs condemning the regasification terminal. There have been many protests organised by grassroots group No Rigassificatore. There is now a heavy federal police presence in the port.

“I think 95% of locals are against this, and I am quite worried,” says Michela Martelli, who works in a small cafe popular with workers in the town.

Snam, the part state-owned company that operates the gas plant, commissioned a study from the University of Genoa “assessing the possible [environmental] effects due to the release of seawater with different characteristics in terms of temperature and chlorine content compared to that taken from the port area”. It concluded the plant is safe, but no independent research has been conducted, and the project was exempted from the standard Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) mandated by European and Italian law.

“Of course Snam says everything is fine, it’s like the butcher telling you their beef is good,” says Maria Cristina Biagini, a retired clerk who has joined the campaign group.

There are particular concerns that the installation could harm the area’s delicate marine ecosystem. Off the coast of Piombino is a cetacean sanctuary, a joint project involving Italy, France and Monaco. In nearby waters there is a large meadow of Posidonia seagrass, precious for its ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere and also a key place for fish to breed – 60% of Italy’s farmed fish comes from Piombino.

The mussel farmer Paolo Del Lama heads a cooperative called Venere, made up of former fishers who switched to aquaculture. “We don’t feel safe working next to this plant because we don’t know what environmental impact it will have,” says Del Lama. “We don’t know if we’ll be able to continue doing our job here.”

Critics note that the Golar Tundra uses “open circuit technology”: the LNG is stored at -160C (-320F), then is transformed into gas through heat exchangers that use the warmer sea water, sterilised with sodium hypochlorite – a chemical used in household bleach. At the end of the cycle, the water is released back into the sea, now 4-5C cooler and mixed with bleach.

Water enriched with dangerous chemicals

“We have this water enriched with dangerous chemicals that first will deposit on the seabed [because cooler water sinks] but then will start circulating because of fluid dynamics,” says Greenpeace Italy’s campaign director, Alessandro Gianni, who notes that the chemicals can sterilise the water and could damage local aquaculture.

Snam disputes this. In a statement, it claimed that “positioning of the regasification terminal in the port is compatible with the territory” and that “the concentrations of chlorine will settle on very low values without interfering with agro-fishing or other activities in port”.

Snam added that the facility would contribute 8% of Italy’s gas needs at a crucial time.

First approved last September by the administration of Mario Draghi, the project was confirmed by the new cabinet under Giorgia Meloni – whose party, the rightwing Brothers of Italy, counts Piombino’s mayor as a member. But that hasn’t stopped Ferrari from opposing the project. After petitioning a federal court for a suspension, and losing, he is now suing Snam in a court case that starts in July.

“We have the right to know if this work is feasible,” says Ferrari. “Otherwise there is the risk of erecting a dangerous structure in the name of the national interest.”

Del Lama says that the energy crisis is not a good reason to forgo science. “If we accept this in the name of the emergency, what can we expect next?”


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Source: The Guardian


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