Environmental Coalition calls for comprehensive investigation into ESB oil leaks

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Immediate release, 6 June 2019

The Environmental Pillar has welcomed the decision of the EPA to investigate the massive leak of oil from underground ESB cables revealed by a whistleblower within the semi-state body.  

The shocking information shown on RTÉ Investigates last night only came to the surface after the whistleblower, Seamus O’Loughlin, made a number of Protected Disclosures to the Department of the Environment (DCCAE). [1]

The disclosures from Mr O’Loughlin, who has worked for the utility for 25 years and first raised concerns internally in 2015, reveal that one million litres of oil has leaked from underground cables over the past 20 years.

The Pillar commends the courage of Mr O’Loughlin to come forward and lift the lid on the potential dangers to both human health and the environment, especially along the Grand and Royal Canals where the leaks were primarily found.

The Pillar is deeply concerned by the fact that the ESB did not report the decades-old leaks to the EPA or Dublin City Council until after it was contacted by RTE Investigates. [2]

This is especially worrying, the Pillar said, as internal ESB documents seen by RTÉ Investigates show that the semi-state was concerned about the potential “very high environmental impact” of the leaks due to the proximity to the Grand Canal. [3]

The Pillar is also concerned by the leakage of 1,200 kilos of a gas with a global warming potential 23,000 times greater than CO2 from Moneypoint Power Station between 2016 and 2017. [4]

An internal ESB technical log seen by RTÉ Investigates shows that between 2016 and 2017, 1,200 kilos of Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6) leaked, releasing the equivalent of 28,000 tonnes of CO2. [5]

Coordinator of the Environmental Pillar, Karen Ciesielski, said:

“The Pillar wants to see a full, clear and comprehensive investigation into the shocking and massive leak of oil from underground ESB cables revealed by a whistleblower within the semi-state body.

“The revelation of the leaks into Dublin waterways as well as the issue at Moneypoint raises serious concerns about the semi-state’s regard for the environment, especially in light of the fact that the appropriate authorities and the public were not informed by ESB Networks.

“The fact that this information has only emerged now and was not immediately addressed when first raised internally in 2015 leaves some serious questions about the ESB’s reaction to the issue.

“The ESB must now act to fast-track the removal of cables that may still be leaking oil into the ground or watercourses, remediate lands and clear up any polluted areas.”

This stark finding, combined with the fact that Moneypoint was offline for period this past winter and spring, adds to the case to bring forward the 2025 decommissioning date for the plant.

Andrew St Ledger of the Environmental Pillar added:

“We need to see accountability on such issues with potentially major environmental and climate impacts. 

“At a time where the Government is asking citizens to step up and do their bit for the environment, we expect state-owned companies to show at the very least the same level of commitment.

“Any form of self-regulation by semi-state companies is unacceptable. We should not be relying on whistleblowers to protect our citizens and the environment.”

ENDS

[1] RTÉ Investigates: The ESB Leaks https://tinyurl.com/y47drtwp

[2] The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was not made aware of such issues by the ESB until the end of May on foot of being contacted by RTÉ. Dublin City Council told RTÉ that it was only informed of the leaks into the canal.

[3] The majority of the cables in question contain a mix of older mineral oil and more modern linear alkyl benzene that the ESB publicly said are biodegradable  

[4] RTÉ Investigates: The ESB Leaks https://tinyurl.com/y47drtwp

[5] The gas Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6) has been used in most of ESB’s high-voltage switchgear on its transmission and distribution networks. The ESB has previously said in its own sustainability reports that it has used the gas because of its very high electrical insulating properties that allow the switchgear to “work efficiently and safely”. https://tinyurl.com/yybuhpwl

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