16 JANUARY 2002
By David Lindsay
The news that Enemalta has teamed up with SNAM to gauge the economic and technical viability of laying a natural gas pipeline between Malta and Sicily is optimum news indeed.
The utilisation of natural gas - which is used for energy production throughout most of modern Europe - is not only a more economical means of distributing power than that of fossil fuels, but it would also eliminate most of the emission problems in electricity generation. Running Maltas energy-generating turbines on natural gas would also release Malta from its dependence on the prices of the international crude oil market.
This is not the first time that the provision of natural gas supplies to Malta has been on the drawing board. Back in October 2000 the Libyan and Italian governments were discussing a proposed natural gas pipeline between the two countries, which would have potentially included a branched-off segment to Malta. In fact, the current project of a dedicated Sicily Malta pipeline was on the drawing board at the time.
The current study will commence with a detailed survey of the seabed between Sicily and Malta, followed by an analysis of the changes that would be necessary to Maltas power plants to allow them to be run on natural gas instead of fuel oil or gas oil, as it does at the moment.
According to energy expert Professor Edward Mallia, who had spoken to this paper when the Libya-Italy pipeline was being discussed, local turbines currently using fossil fuels could be converted to utilise natural gas with little or no alteration.
The environmental plusses are hard to ignore, with the infamous black dust being emitted from the Marsa power plant and outdated and leaky storage facilities, particularly from Enemaltas Birzebuga installation.
A point on which Prof. Mallia provides further clarification, "The amount of carbon dioxide produced by energy production through natural gas is considerably lower than that of fossil fuels. Furthermore, supplies of natural gas tend to be sulphur-free and when they are not, generally speaking, refineries remove sulphur content if present."
During the design and construction of the Delimara power station, outdated oil and coal firing mechanisms had been selected to equip the plant. However, the government had chosen a gas turbine during the second phase of the power stations construction.
Finance Minister John Dalli had also praised the benefits of a natural gas pipeline, explaining that with natural gas being supplied through a pipeline, there would be no need to create storage facilities as the gas could be used directly on demand.
The current study is expected to make it possible to assess the viability of natural gas as the principal future fuel for electricity generation in Malta and the emerging information would make it possible for Enemalta and the government to finalise their future plans accordingly.
SNAM is a world leader in the supply of natural gas, transport and marketing with particular experience in the design and execution of submarine pipelines. The marine survey will be carried out by SNAM at their expense and is expected to be concluded within the next six months.