Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

¡Save our Cabezo de la Sal!

Escombreras in Cartagena
Salt in Torrevieja
When we got back to Culebrón on Friday there was a flyer in our letterbox; it started: "Our Cabezo de la Sal it is wanted to be filled with Brent Crude!!! it is intended to be transported from Cartagena harbour through a more-than 110km-km-long pipe to store it in the salt wells!!!"

Cabezo de la Sal  is one of the local hills, well if 893 metres or 2,902 feet  high is a hill it is - that's some 624 feet shorter than Snowdon.

I read, and wrote, about this last February but the whole project has come up again as a result of the recent election campaigns. Cabezo de la Sal is a mountain loaded with 500 million tons of salt of which about 120 million tons can be extracted with current technology.

The salt is mined by digging a borehole and then forcing high pressure water down the hole to dissolve the rock salt. The resultant brine is sent, by pipeline, to the salt lagoons at Torrevieja where it is mixed with the sea water so that when the water is evaporated off the yield of salt is much higher.

The wells go down between 600 and 1200 metres before the process is stopped, the borehole is sealed and the miners move on to drill another hole about 150 metres away. The end result is a mountain peppered with subterranean caverns.

Apparently EU legislation requires that each country should have a strategic reserve of crude oil which will last for 92 days "To cover any eventuality in the international market." Spain's current Strategic Reserve is in a lot of oil tanks in the Escombreras Valley in Cartagena. The plan is to bring the crude ashore at the tanker terminal there, build a 110km pipeline and pump up to two million cubic metres of the black gold into the disused caverns in our mountain.

The opponents say that there is a high risk of oil spills, that inhaling the vapour from crude causes cancer, that Pinoso is in an area of high seismic activity for Europe, that Pinoso could become a terrorist target, that land will have to be compulsorily purchased, that there is the chance that Pinoso might have to be evacuated if there were a disaster and that the mountain could become a restricted area.

The proponents say that there is no risk of fire with oil stored more than 500 metres underground because there is no oxygen, that there is no chance of pollution of aquifers or of escape of the crude because the remaining salt is plastic at that depth so naturally self sealing, that only in Hollywood films are mountains split apart by earthquakes, that they love the natural environment as much as any environmentalist, that and will use the best technology to build the pipeline, that the visual effect of the installations will be minimal and that Spain needs safe, cost efficient, effective storage and that this is it.

Personally I'm a bit ambivalent about the whole thing. The corporate response is glib and the Platform for el Cabezo Free From Petroleum's objections range from the reasonable to the bizarre.

No comments: