Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Seismic blasting

Pacific Gas & Electric has applied to blast the coast with 250-decibel air guns, 24/7, for 42 days and nights. The justification for this elaborate, expensive and destructive project is: “PG&E’s Geosciences staff believes that data gathered from the additional studies that comprise the Project would improve characterizations of these fault zones and allow PG&E to refine estimates of the frequency and intensity of ground motion that is likely to occur in the area surrounding and including the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. This information may also improve assessments of the potential seismic hazard at the DCPP.” Note that the project won't make the nuclear plant any safer. No modifications are planned to the plant. What they will get out of it is better, 3-D computer models of the plant and the faults that it was built on. In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, this extreme project has been an easy sell to politicians. The public is less enthusiastic.

The report identifies substantial ‘impacts’ to marine mammals and commercial fishing, as well as air pollution.That includes elephant seals, which are dismissed in a couple of paragraphs. "The northern elephant seal is present year-round off of central California; however, because they spend very little time at the surface and forage mostly offshore, at-sea sightings are rare." No further concern is expressed. In fact, elephant seals spend most of their time deep in the ocean, where the killing blasts will be directed. The time period, from November 1 through December 31, when PG&E has been approved to blast, adult males are returning to the Central Coast from Alaska for the breeding season.

The National Science Foundation‘s draft Environmental Assessment finds no impact from the 42 days of 24-7 air gun blasts, to be done from its research vessel for seismic testing to support relicensing of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant.  The state Fish & Game Commission held its own hearing August 9, video posted here. The public hearing on the Final State Lands Commission EIR was held today in Sacramento. It was televised in Morro Bay so that local people could comment without having to travel to the capital, with written comments also accepted. The 250-decibel level has no comparison on land. Standing beneath a jet engine taking off is estimated at 160 decibels. This is far louder than the Garage Pro Paralyzing Air Siren at 140 db.

PG&E requires approvals from other agencies, and they have weighed in with critical comments. Non-governmental organizations have also been thoughtful in their comments. 

This project in no way makes Diablo Canyon safer. Nuclear waste will still be stored there, and the company makes no mention of what measures would be taken based on further data to be gathered from seismic testing. The final EIR considers the alternative of No Project — requiring PG&E to rely on other data. Many of the local people who commented preferred that, but the commission members were confident that "everyone agrees this has to be done."

At the end of the hearing, the commission was reluctant to grant the permit without taking more time to discuss the conditions that will be placed on the permit. They certified the final EIR but continued the meeting to Monday 20 August for further discussion.

At the August 20 meeting, public comment was united against the project.

“I have not witnessed [a mobilized citizenry] to this degree in my time in city government—people who are typically not likely to sit on the same side,” Morro Bay Councilman Noah Smukler testified. “We’re all dependent on the health of our ocean.”
 The commission nevertheless approved a modified plan, allowing blasting November 1- December 31, and providing that they can test the following year if they don't get the data they want. They agreed to hire another consultant to review the design and data as requested by Supervisor Bruce Gibson, but since there won't be time for that to happen before the testing period, he'll review the data after they collect it.

There were only two votes out of three commission members because all sent their alternates. The Snitch called Gavin Newsom out on ducking out of the meeting.The reason all three didn’t vote is because both the Controller and the Lt. Governor had their alternates there. In this situation, only one of them is allowed to vote. Mr. Gordon, the Controller alternate, voted aye; Mr. Garland, the Lt. Governor alternate, abstained, but stated on the record verbally he would have voted to approve. The Dept. of Finance alternate was the other vote.

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