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A tale of two leaks

By Boy P. | Feb. 15, 2013 at 12:01am
Happy Hour came across a report by UP professor and National Institute of Geological Sciences director Dr. Carlo “Caloy” Arcilla on the “continuing calamity of the contamination from the Makati pipeline leak.” In case people have forgotten, this happened in July 2010 when residents of the 22-story West Tower Condominium in Bangkal, Makati were alarmed to discover their basement flooded by a mixture of what appeared to be oil, water and kerosene— the source of which remained a mystery until Dr. Caloy Arcilla and his group of geologists finally discovered the source of the leak: the First Philippine Industrial Corp. pipeline (located several meters from the condominium and which supplies more than half of the oil and petroleum products in the Pandacan depot.

The UP geologists accomplished what the FPIC-commissioned foreign experts with their million-dollar fees failed to do. Not that it was any surprise to many considering the very strong suspicion that FPIC tried to keep the truth from surfacing, issuing denials that the pipe was the source of the leak. In short, there was an alleged attempt to “hide” or cover up the true magnitude of the situation, Happy Hour observers noted. People thought that the leak has been stopped and cleaned up, and that everything has been returned to normal especially since FPIC was quick to claim a couple of months after the incident that the problem has been solved after it “patched” the leaking pipes.

Eeep—wrong! Clearly, a truth and credibility issue here, Happy Hour buddies commented, because according to Dr. Caloy, between 500,000 and 700,000 liters of petroleum products (gasoline, kerosene, diesel and aviation gas) which leaked from the pipeline remain underground, continuing to pollute and contaminate the soil and groundwater. This is contrary to the claims of a network whose owners are the same as the pipeline’s that there is now very little left of the contaminant plume (the source of contamination spreading outwards like a feather, hence the term “plume”) beneath Bangkal. Worse, the leaked products are not visible which make them even more dangerous, the professor said.

While it is true that the remediation process called the multi-phase extraction system commissioned by the FPIC and its cleanup agent CH2 M Hill is now fully in operation and able to clean 500,000 liters of contaminated water from the contaminant plume per day, the underground MPE system can only recover less than 300 liters of petroleum products that pass through the contaminated water per day of operation. If one were to compute the number of days it would take to clean up the rest of the estimated 600,000 liters of contaminants remaining underground, then that would take about six years or 2,200 days, Arcilla said.

“FPIC is assuming that more than 700 liters of the fuel underground is decomposing per day, and this is probably the basis why they are saying that the MPE will only operate within two to three years before cleanup is stopped,” Arcilla noted. However, it is not for the FPIC to impose a three-year deadline for the cleanup because the only time when MPE should cease is when it has been determined that every single drop of the contaminants have been cleaned up and cleaned out—and three years is definitely not enough to do all that, the expert noted. Fortunately, the Makati City government continues to be vigilant, conducting independent monitoring with UP NIGS as consultant to track the effectiveness of the MPE system and if remediation goals (meaning total cleanup) are achieved. But this doesn’t come cheap, since constant sampling and resampling of the water and analysis for benzene levels can be very expensive—in which case, shouldn’t these monitoring costs be shouldered by the FPIC as well since it is the reason why the leak which contaminated the soil and groundwater occurred? What’s more, the lives of the 100 or so families in West Tower have not returned to normal, with the health of some children reportedly affected by the toxic gas fumes during the first three months of the leak.

Compare the FPIC leak with the Padcal, Benguet mine tailings pond leak of Philex Mining Corp. and you could see how ironic it is that some environmentalists are labeling it as the biggest mining disaster in the country. While it is true that the volume of tailings spilled into Balog Creek and Agno River was massive, no lives were displaced, no carcinogenic substances remain on the groundwater and the mining company —which at the onset was very transparent and did not attempt to hide the disaster from the media and public—voluntarily shut down the operations and called the attention of the DENR, the LGUs and appropriate authorities about the leak. The company set aside P1 billion for the cleanup and rehabilitation, with another P1 billion plus imposed by the DENR as fine. In contrast, the FPIC was given a virtual slap on the wrist with a P24.2-million fine, and as if to add insult to the injury, the Department of Energy last year recommended the reopening of the FPIC pipeline despite the fact that remediation has not been completed. Something does not compute—or as a Happy Hour buddy remarked —how much does it compute?


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