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Difference of opinion over gas pipeline

National Grid is building a 150 mile pipeline to take liquefied natural gas 150 miles from Pembrokeshire to Gloucestershire. But work has been halted by a group of protesters at Pontardawe in the Swansea Valley. Here people with different views on the pipeline argue the pros and cons of the project

The DTI says

The UK currently needs gas for about 40% of its electricity as well as directly to heat our homes and power our industries.

After decades of being an energy island, the North Sea is in gradual decline and the UK is in transition to being a net importer. Last year we imported about 10% of our gas; the rest still came from indigenous production. By 2020 the situation is likely to be reversed, with 80-90% of our gas imported.

There is nothing unusual about being a net importer. All but Canada in the G7 is also in the same position.

To ensure security of supply for the future it is essential that we import gas from a diverse range of sources. Hence, there are a number of major import projects coming on stream.

Examples include the Langeled pipeline that will from next year provide about 20% of our gas from Norwegian gas fields, and the Milford Haven LNG import projects that could bring 20% of the gas we need from Qatar.

These are in addition to the existing interconnector with Belgium, and a new interconnector linking us to the Netherlands. The UK Government is pushing hard for the continental energy market to be liberalised to improve the flow of gas through these interconnectors.

The Energy Review which concluded in July is leading to a range of measures to help improve our energy security and to reduce the carbon emissions resulting from our energy use. These included new support for offshore renewables, removing unnecessary barriers to new nuclear power stations and cleaning up how we use traditional fossil fuels such as gas.

'Safe Haven'

Right across Wales, from Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire to Tirley near the border in Gloucestershire, thousands of people are waking up to find themselves cast as inconvenient bit part players in one of the world's biggest infrastructure projects.

A tiny handful noticed the 3cm square adverts in their local press that passed for the project's public consultation, but most of us only heard about it for the first time when planning permissions had already been hurried through and diggers were arriving at the end of the garden.

Farmers the length of the pipe were told their land would be compulsorily purchased if they did not sell up at the price set by National Grid.

Two massive LNG terminals in Milford Haven will, between them, import about 25% of the UK's gas needs by 2012. The gas will arrive in Pembrokeshire in liquid form from the Middle East on the biggest liquid gas tankers ever built. It will then be turned back into natural gas in Pembrokeshire and pumped at high pressure into a brand new 4ft diameter pipeline that stretches 115 miles across Wales to England.

The project is being hailed as the hi-tech, forward-looking solution to the problem of Britain's declining North Sea Gas reserves, but in fact it is a fossil fuel dinosaur that has exposed systemic corruption and safety failures right across Wales and Whitehall.

As early as 2002 retired tanker pilots with many years of experience on the Milford Haven waterway, decorated for their service to the industry, were expressing grave safety reservations about the project. These concerns were quite properly referred to the relevant Ministers. The letters went unanswered - the Department for Transport later claimed that they had been 'lost in the system'.

The former Secretary of State for Wales, Lord Crickhowell, raised similar concerns in Parliament and directly with Ministers. To no avail.

Two members of Safe Haven have taken the Pembrokeshire local authorities to court in an attempt to force them to take account of the fact that no proper LNG marine risk assessments were ever made available to democratically elected decision-makers.

Those same councils have fought tooth and nail for the right not to take marine safety into account. Incredibly, the High Court and the Court of Appeal have agreed that marine safety is not the concern of democratic representatives. It is solely for the Milford Haven Port Authority, a financial beneficiary of the project, to decide, what, if any, assessment is necessary.

The Welsh Assembly Government received hundreds of letters begging them to intervene and insist that marine and pipeline safety reports be published. WAG said that the world's third biggest infrastructure project was a 'local matter' for the Pembrokeshire authorities with no impact beyond its site boundary.

The 'national need' is constantly cited in the project's favour, yet there is no real national need. Britain is awash with gas given the sheer scale of alternative projects coming on stream. Much of the gas that will come through Milford may end up for export. A modest move towards energy conservation would remove the need for the Milford Project entirely.

The public were not consulted. Genuine safety concerns have been ignored by all branches of government. This issue must now be properly debated. Those men and women who are preparing today for another night in the cold are on the front line of the battle for real democracy - here in Wales. Mr Morgan must stop pretending this isn't happening and stand up for his country.

By Gordon Main, a spokesman for protest group Safe Haven.

Friends of the Earth Cymru

As the pipeline activists point out, their protest comes barely two weeks after senior economist Nicholas Stern warned that the way we generate our energy will not only damage the countryside dug up to lay those pipes.

His report on the economics of climate change predicted the far-reaching consequences of our continued love affair with burning coal, oil and gas for power.

Friends of the Earth's Big Ask Campaign has been calling for a Climate Bill which would legally require the UK Government to reduce our emissions of CO² by at least 3% every year. We believe that the same targets should apply in Wales. This will require major investment in energy efficiency and in producing electricity from renewable sources such as the wind, the sea and sun and by growing and burning energy crops. All of these could create jobs for Welsh engineers, builders, farmers and others.

This will not happen overnight. If we are serious about confronting climate change and accept that we will continue to burn fossil fuels for the foreseeable future then we must burn them as efficiently as possible. The most efficient gas-fired power station in Wales, at Baglan Bay, only operates at around 60% efficiency - over a third of the energy produced at the plant is lost as heat. If the Government insisted that all new power stations were combined heat and power plants, which would use the spare heat for industry, then their efficiency would leap to around 85%.

To tear up the countryside for this pipeline, only to fritter away all that imported energy as heat into the skies above our power stations would be a double tragedy. We should thank those protesters sitting in the Pontardawe mud for bringing it to our attention.

Julian Rosser, Director, Friends of the Earth Cymru

Farmers' Union of Wales

Members have expressed support for the pipeline.

It will deliver 20% of all the UK's gas, which is of huge economic and strategic importance.

We have to be practical. The National Grid has compulsory purchase power, and will pay for the land used. Provided they treat the farming community fairly, and we believe they have done so thus far, we believe it is better to work with them. Farmers would prefer it didn't happen but the reality is that it is happening.

Peter Davies is director of administration for the Farmers' Union of Wales

Local resident

In late November 2005 an advertisement was spotted in a local paper for a hazardous substance licence/pressure reduction station just outside our village.

On December 12 2005 the Department of Trade and Industry passed Phase 1 of the Milford Haven to Cilfrew pipeline project. Consultation is a debate - all we have been given by National Grid is promotion after the event.

Our local councils passed this pipeline project as statutory consultees without a murmur reaching the people affected.

The people of Trebanos are refused mains gas as the utility companies cannot risk putting household gas pipes into a land slip area.

Yet National Grid can put in a 4ft industrial pipe at 94 bar pressure, using untried technology, through the same area.

The people of Cilfrew, near Neath, are expected to live with an industrial complex only 500 metres from them when behind the village we have five miles of mountain where it could go.

There has never been a valid reason given why the pipeline needs to come this close.

We have begged for help from the Welsh Assembly and Westminster to no avail.

We are all told if everyone turned off their electrical equipment off standby and bought low energy bulbs we could save 20% of the energy we use.

Is it not time that this was done instead of us living in fear so huge multinational companies can make a profit on the fossil fuels they have contracted to buy?

By Linda Ware, secretary of the Cilfrew Residents Association.

National Grid

More than 21 million homes and businesses across the United Kingdom use gas, and that number is rising every day.

But although demand for gas is rising, the amount of gas being produced from North Sea fields is falling. So from autumn next year, liquefied natural gas (LNG) - natural gas cooled into liquid form so that it can be moved and stored in larger quantities - will be brought by ship to two new import terminals at Milford Haven.

The LNG will be turned back into ordinary natural gas, which will then be piped into the National Gas Transmission System (NTS) in exactly the same form as the gas that reaches our homes and businesses.

From next year the new National Grid pipeline will allow gas to flow eastwards from Milford Haven, and the new pressure reduction station being built at Cilfrew will bring much of this gas into Wales' existing pipelines.

For the first time, South Wales will be at the 'front-end' rather than the 'tail-end' of the UK gas transmission network. This will secure Wales' energy supply for many years to come, and will allow further economic development in South Wales - with new power stations and industrial expansion possible, and the potential to meet rising demand.

Not all the gas from Milford Haven will flow into the South Wales network and National Grid needs to build a further pipeline to Tirley, near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is consulting on this pipeline which, subject to their approval, we hope to start building next spring.

The DTI gave consent for construction of the new pipeline from Milford Haven to Aberdulais last November. More than 90 per cent of the pipeline has been completed.

The pipeline is made of high- grade steel to the highest safety standards; the same standards as the other 6,800km of high-pressure gas pipelines we have operated safely for more than 35 years. All pipe sections and welds are tested to greater pressures than they will ever face under normal operating conditions.

National Grid also takes great care to protect the environment and wildlife. We work closely with the Environment Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales, and are advised by ecologists and archaeologists at all stages of design and construction.

Reinstatement of the landscape has begun already along much of the completed pipeline route.

Anyone wishing to learn more about the project can call National Grid's Community Relations team on freephone 0800 7310561.

David Mercer, senior project manager, National Grid

Pipeline timeline

April 2003

Oil company ExxonMobil submits an application to build a huge gas importation terminal at the old Esso refinery site in Herbrandston, near Milford Haven. The plan is to store liquid natural gas there before distributing it by pipeline to the national gas supply.

March 2004

Pembrokeshire County Council gives consent to the depot plans, hailed by many as a huge economic boost to the area, despite massive opposition based on safety and environmental concerns.

August 2004

A 15-year supply deal worth some £4bn, centring around importing liquid natural gas to Milford Haven, is announced by British Gas owner Centrica.

October 2005

Countryside Restoration Trust call on the Prince of Wales to oppose the plans, as it is revealed the pipeline passes through three fields of his Duchy of Cornwall Estate in the Brecon Beacons.

November 2005

The first phase of the pipeline's route receives ministerial consent from the UK Government.

November 29, 2005

The Brecon Beacons National Park announces it will oppose the second phase of the pipeline plans, which see it go through protected land.

January 2005

The Court of Appeal hears some 20,000 people would be at risk if one of the tankers bringing in the liquid gas to Milford Haven were to be involved in an accident.

March 2006

Court of Appeal accepts the authorities' claim that all risks were fully assessed. Campaigners insist they will continue to fight the plans.

May 12, 2006

Workers digging the pipeline near St Clears discover the remains of a human thigh bone, along with artefacts from the 1950s. Work stops as police investigate. However it transpires the bone had belonged to a medical student who had thrown it away.

June 2006

The Safe Haven group, which unsuccessfully challenged the Milford Haven planning decision, vows to lobby landowners along the pipeline route to block its progress.

July 2006

Bronze age canoe is found near Milford Haven. It turns out to be one of only 150 of its kind ever found in Europe, and the first in Wales.

September 2006

Volunteers who had been working on a community woodland near Milford Haven are stunned to find it has been felled to make way for the pipeline. The Mount Community Association says the woodland, known as Fairy Glen, was annihilated without any consultation, even though they pay a £25,000 lease. National Grid say they will re-plant the trees.