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Dublin: 12 °C Friday 6 December, 2019
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Thousands of kilos of potent greenhouse gas leaked from an ESB station. The EPA wasn't told

SF6 is a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 23,000 times that of carbon dioxide.

The EPA is now considering enforcement action against the semi-State body.
The EPA is now considering enforcement action against the semi-State body.
Image: Shutterstock/TheCourtyard

THE ESB LEAKED thousands of kilogrammes of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere at a major River Shannon facility since 2013, but failed to inform the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

During an EPA inspection of the Moneypoint Generating Station in June, it emerged that 2,376kg of SF6 gas had leaked from one of its substations since 2013.

SF6 is a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 23,000 times that of carbon dioxide. The undeclared release at Moneypoint represents 0.02% of Ireland’s total national greenhouse gas emissions over the period.

The ESB failed to tell the EPA about the emissions leak.

The agency is now considering enforcement action against the semi-State body under the European Pollutant Transfer Register requirements, an Oireachtas committee will hear today. 

Following an RTÉ Investigates programme, an inquiry was launched by the EPA into the ESB.

Dr Tom Ryan, Director of the Office of Environmental Enforcement (OEE) at the EPA, will address Oireachtas members today.

He’s due to tell TDs and senators that preliminary findings of the EPA investigation indicated management and control of SF6 at the Moneypoint site was “operationally rather than environmentally focused with sustained and prolonged leaks from equipment within the ESB Networks Compound”.

In his opening statement he explains that there are four substations within the ESB Networks Compound relevant to SF6.

In one of these substations, known as the Old 400 kV substation, SF6 gas has been leaking out since 2013. 

Since the June site visit, the substation has been fully de-energised, with the ESB stating that since the station was shut down, the leakage of SF6 is no longer an issue.

The EPA is understood to be seeking verification of this assertion and removal of the remaining SF6 gas.

Instead of carrying out repairs when a leak occurs, “the general approach to corrective action by ESB Networks was to top-up equipment with SF6 rather than undertake repair”, the committee will be told today.

The investigation into the management of SF6 gas is set to find that the Moneypoint site ”does not have a robust system for the management, labelling and storage of recovered SF6″.

The final report, which is due to be published in the coming weeks, will include corrective action regarding management and control of SF6 at the Moneypoint site and at other ESB Network locations where SF6 is used.

Millions of litres of oil leaked underground

In addition to the probe into greenhouse gas leaks by the ESB, the investigation also looked into how one million litres of oil from heavy-duty electrical cables leaked out under the streets of Dublin.

The issue was highlighted after whistleblower Séamus O’Loughlin made a number of protected disclosures around environmental and safety hazards within the ESB Network.

The EPA will today reveal that there were 68 ‘historic’ oil leaks between 1993 and June 2019 and a further seven ‘current and new’ leaks since June 2019.

These leaks occurred in within four local authority areas – Dublin City Council, South Dublin County Council, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and Cork City Council.

It is understood the locations and scale of each leak have been identified by ESB Networks.

The committee will be told today that while ESB Networks report that they consulted a relevant authority regarding 20 of the 68 leaks identified prior to June 2019, ESB Networks failed in the cases of 48 leaks to notify local authorities, in accordance with the law. 

The report will also set out that ESB Networks failed to screen the impact of fluid leaks, which occurred since 1 April 2009 and until after June 2019.

ESB Networks have commenced a process of assessing the impact of all leaks from fluid
filled cables.

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