January 13 2009



Old Grumpy hears that the sale of the Mine Depot at Blackbridge to Milford Haven Port Authority (MHPA) is back on the agenda.
Readers will remember that the council was keen to sell the site to MHPA back in 2006 - so keen, in fact, that port boss Ted Sangster was provided with confidential cabinet papers to help him persuade the MHPA board to cough up the extra money needed to outbid local consortium Cleddau Enterprises Ltd.
MHPA's bid was sold to the Cabinet on the grounds that it would develop the site as a container terminal but when Old Grumpy dug a bit deeper it emerged that all that had been promised was "a feasibility study" into a container handling facility (Panto mine).
What could have been an embarrassing situation was avoided when an Irish-based company offered to buy the site for use as a biofuels plant (Oiling the wheels) but this proposal was killed off by a combination of local opposition and the growing realisation that biofuels might not be the panacea that their promoters claimed.
Now I am told that the council and MHPA are in secret talks over the future of the site.
One rumour currently doing the rounds is that a major wind power company has visited the site though it is not clear how covering the site with wind turbines might be reconciled with the previous insistence that this last remaining waterfront site should be reserved for maritime activities.
Fortunately, the two county council members whose wards border on the mine depot: Cllrs Danny Fellows and Anne Hughes are both members of the MHPA board so they are in the perfect position to keep their constituents abreast of developments.
However, it also the case that membership of the MHPA board requires that you must act in the interests of the authority "and not in any other capacity e.g. on behalf of a nominating or representative body, or as a defender of functional or sectional interests.( Divided loyalties)(Split affinities).
This presents particular difficulties for Cllr Hughes who is a county council representative on the the MHPA board and, therefore, owes her £6,500-a-year position to the people of Milford Central who elected her.
Where would she stand if MHPA were to propose something that was patently against the interests of her constituents?

The recent presentation of the emergency plan for an LNG spill in the Haven has left most people completely underwhelmed.
It seems it was a bit of a rush job because I have recently been sent copies of e-mails circulated in the county council's emergency planning department which "confirm" that the first LNG tanker "is due at South Hook terminal in the week commencing 12 January 2009" together with instructions to "bring the date [of the presentation] forward to week before [the tanker's arrival], closer to Fri Jan 9 the better."
It now appears that the first tanker will not be arriving for some weeks or months, though the fact that the emergency planners didn't know this (or bother to check) hardly inspires confidence.
People who have contacted me felt the whole exercise was bit of a damp squib
And I am not talking about the usual suspects from Safe Haven and the green lobby
An old oil industry pro rang me and described the information sent out to those most at risk as "a joke".
Having now read the document - none were available at the presentation - I find it difficult to disagree with that assessment.
But that might be a trifle unfair because it is clearly necessary to have an emergency plan of some sort, if only to calm the public's nerves, but the plain truth is that if there is a significant spill of LNG into the Haven there is absolutely nothing the fire service or anyone else can do to contain it.
That is because liquefied methane has a boiling point of minus 160 degrees C and once it comes into contact with relatively hot seawater (15 degrees C) it rapidly vaporises.
What happens after that is in the lap of the Gods.
As for the small spill on which, we are told, the fire fighters have been practising in the USA, that will have evaporated before the fire engine leaves the depot.
So what happens if there is a catastrophic failure and a large amount of LNG is discharged into the sea?
Firstly it will evaporate and then, depending on the weather conditions, several alternatives present themselves.
Methane is just over half as dense as as air so, all things being equal, it will rise and be rapidly dispersed into the atmosphere.
But all things aren't equal because methane at temperatures just above its boiling point is actually denser than the atmosphere
On cold calm days, such as we had last week, a dense cloud of methane will form near the surface.
On hot windy days the gas will quickly disperse.
And all stations in between.
The other thing to remember is that pure methane won't burn.
For combustion to take place requires air in the proportions methane 5-15%: air 85-95%.
So the cloud produced from a methane spill will pass through three phases depending on weather conditions and its proximity to the spill: more than 15% methane (non inflammable) 5-15% methane:85-95% air mixture (inflammable) and more than 95% air (non-inflammable).
And finally, for methane to burn you need an ignition source - hence the advice to turn off the central heating etc, although as only a single ignition source is required it would be the height of optimism to believe that every possible source would be turned off in towns the size of Milford Haven, Neyland and Pembroke Dock which would be in the front line of any spill.
Of course, burn isn't quite the most accurate description of what happens when you ignite a gas/air mixture.
What is set up is a rapid chemical chain reaction which produces a large amount of heat and an explosion.
Nobody who experienced the explosion at Texaco in the summer of 1994, which blew out shop windows two miles away in Milford Haven, would underestimate the destructive powers of gas/air mixtures.
And any explosion following a large discharge of LNG into the Haven would be several orders of magnitude greater than that. On the plus side, there is quite a lot of atmosphere out there to dilute these vapours to safe levels - 14 lb per sq inch or 10 tonnes per sq mtr, which equates to 50,000 tonnes aver a 100m x 50 m football pitch.
So am I able to sleep at night.
Yes, and not only because of the Merlot.
The fact is that the chances of a serious spill are vanishingly small and even if one did occur it is by no means inevitable that the outcome would be disastrous.
That said, million-to-one chances do happen.
And you don't have to do something a million times before such an event occurs.
After all, as my statistical consultant tells me, the probability of picking the six winning numbers in the National Lottery is 13 million-to-one.
But, when the lottery started up, some lucky winner pulled it off at their first attempt.

The local emergency planners are not the only ones offering reassurance in the face of possible disaster.
I refer to the goverment's promises to protect "hard working families" from the effects of "the global financial crisis".
Despite all this clever this spin, people are coming to realise that, in reality, our government, in common with those in the rest of the world, doesn't have a clue either about the true seriousness of the situation or how to get us out of it.
Hardly a day goes by without the announcement of some headline-grabbing initiative designed to distract our attention from the rising tide of bankruptcies, unemployment and repossessions.
Only two months ago, the Chancellor was telling us that there would be a mild bout of negative growth in the first two quarters of 2009 before the economy resumed its upward trajectory in the second half of the year.
Nobody, not even Mr Darling, believes that any more.

Another with soothing words to offer as we face the rigours of 2009 is Cllr Anne Hughes who is due to take over the chairmanship of Pembrokeshire County Council next May, at which point, according to the council's constitution she "shall have precedence in the county, but not so as to affect Her Majesty's royal prerogative.
You may have noticed a New Year message from Cllr Hughes in both the Western Telegraph and Milford Mercury in which, as the Mercury puts it "The vice-chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council has shared her thoughts on how the current economic climate will affect the county."
In some circles in Milford Haven she is known as Queen Anne, but I don't think it was ever intended to be taken seriously.
Councillor Hughes tells us we should be "'embracing' the young people in the county".
Before going out and acting on that advice I should warn that if you pick someone who lacks a gsoh you may find yourself under arrest.
As for the rest of her prescription for our economic wellbeing, she trots out those old favourite platitudes: using local companies and suppliers, jobs for local youngsters and dualling the A40.
Of course, as Friends of the Earth consistently points out, dualling the A40 and making it easier to go shopping in Carmarthen, Swansea and Cardiff discourages the use of "local companies and suppliers".
Unfortunately, the problem of young people "being forced to leave Pembrokeshire to find appropriate jobs and training elsewhere", as she puts it, is one that all rural areas face and one to which there is no satisfactory answer.
If an ambitious youngster from Pembrokeshire wishes to become a professional footballer, university professor, top lawyer or surgeon, national broadcaster, actor - the list is endless - they have no choice but to look elsewhere.
As for "training", Pembrokeshire has no university and no prospect of ever having one.
In any case, many youngsters have no desire to hang around in the place of they were born and brought up.
They want to escape the suffocating influence of home and family and spread their wings.
And who can blame them.

Unfortunately, neither the Western Telegraph nor the Mercury have been on the phone asking for my views on the economic future.
But you can have them anyway.
They can be summed up in the single word: frugality.
This comes easy to those of us reared on powdered eggs and rose-hip syrup during the years of post-war austerity, but such is the seriousness of the economic situation they are habits that younger people will just have to learn.
For example: on Sunday Grumpette roasted a medium-sized chicken which was accompanied by roast potatoes, cauliflower and gravy.
I should say that for all my tasteless jokes about Grumpette's paintings, she is a virtuoso gravy-maker.
So it was no disappointment when we had a repeat performance on Monday; plus spinach from the garden.
I went into the kitchen a couple of minutes ago where she was contemplating the remaining bits of the chicken, detached from the carcass with surgical precision, and wondering aloud: "I wonder if the curry will stretch to two days?"
Meanwhile, what remains of the chicken is boiling on the cooker to produce a stock for the soup that will be tomorrow's lunch.
As I said to Grumpette: "if you'd bought one of those really large chickens it would have lasted us all week."

Turf war?

My socialist friend has drawn my attention to a report of a clifftop rescue that appeared on the WT's website under the headline "Tenby and Manorbier coastguard crews come to aid of fallen woman"
If the emergency services keep on like this the churches will be redundant.