TAP's Field Work: Pipeline Route Refinement In Northern Greece
TAP has made good progress in refining its pipeline routing in northern Greece. The field survey started in November 2010 and aims to select the route for the TAP gas pipeline with the least social, environmental and cultural-heritage impacts.
In this issue, we invite you to take an inside look at how the pipeline route refinement processes are run.
TAP route surveys
In 2009, TAP began refining its pipeline routing in preparation for the detailed Environmental & Social Impact Assessment that will comply with the stringent performance standards of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
The route refinement survey requires many months of planning and preparation before any actual field work starts. Everything begins with a desktop study undertaken in the office, where various route options are identified and analysed.
This research takes into account a number of sources, including topographical maps and satellite images, as well as publicly available information on communities, protected areas, cultural heritage sites, land use zones, industrial development areas, roads, power lines and future projects.
From the 21st to the 28th November 2010, a group of 35 specialists assessed whether their initial findings on the potential routes in Greece matched the reality on the ground. The survey team represented a multinational mix of engineers, geologists, sociologists, archaeologists and environmental specialists. It consisted of members of the TAP team and consultants from Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and the UK, as well as local experts from Greece. This pooling of diverse skills and nationalities ensures that the best international knowledge is matched with local insight and expertise.
The task of the survey team has been to inspect five potential pipeline corridors in northern Greece, with a length of around 500 kilometers.
The base camp of the team during the first fieldwork campaign was the beautiful town of Kastoria at the Lake of Orestiada. Every day the team started at sunrise in order to make the best use of the daylight, splitting into small specialist groups each heading in its own direction with specific tasks, schedules and agendas.
The methodology of a pipeline survey is simple – it involves walking or driving along the potential pipeline route and recording everything along the way, including any changes in terrain, cultural sites or other important considerations. Thoroughness and attention to detail is the order of the day.
For each scientist in the team, the working day consists of collecting samples, taking photographs, recording GPS coordinates and observations.
While the weather is not always conducive to exploration, this research is vital to the project planning. The team goes to great lengths to fully understand the local terrain and the local environment.
What is technically feasible?
During the five days of the survey, the main task of the team was to visit “hot spots” and identify potential obstacles to the future route.
The technical group, which consisted primarily of pipeline engineers, set out in search of a suitable corridor for the pipeline to pass. The importance of seeing a location first hand cannot be underestimated. During the exploration of an area near the town of Veria, the team discovered a newly built parking lot, where they expected to find an empty farm field.
Christian Tietze, lead engineer on the survey, explained, “Apparently, in the last couple of years the area around the site had undergone lots of development. Many new buildings were constructed, in addition to this parking lot. These changes do not yet appear on any existing maps.” Based on this discovery, the team concluded that the area should be avoided.
“One of the technical requirements for TAP is a 30 meter distance on both sides of the pipeline in order to ensure its security and stability. This means that TAP will have to avoid crossing such densely populated areas,” said Tietze.
Transport logistics experts were also part of the group and analyzed the existing roads and infrastructure to find out whether there are enough unoccupied areas for access roads, camp sites and pipe yards. These considerations will be crucial when the pipeline laying begins, as the project team will need to transport construction materials, equipment and workers to the site.
As the survey continued, the group inspected the lignite mines in the Ptolemaida basin, which are among the largest lignite deposits in the world and provide 80% of Greece’s energy consumption. The survey team discovered that over the past year the mine area had expanded much further than expected, and it is, in fact, scheduled to grow even more in the future. As a result the project team made the decision to either circumvent or avoid the entire area. Again, the firsthand experience was crucial to the decision-making process.
At the same time, a group of geologists surveyed the surrounding mountain ranges for active faults, determining the stability of the slopes and checking if there were any major seismic risks. “During this part of the survey we compared satellite images with what really existed on the ground, establishing the so-called “ground truth”,” explained Harris Krannis, a Greek geologist.
Considering environment and cultural heritage
According to Ferran Climent, a Catalan environmental specialist, the protected areas and natural reserves in Greece are already charted accurately on existing maps. “When we see unique habitats or Natura 2000 areas we do not need to investigate further. Our task is to avoid them completely,” explained Climent.
As a result, the unclassified areas on the map required the most attention, again highlighting the importance of utilising local experts familiar with local flora and fauna. Anastasia Stefanaki, flora specialist and botany PhD student at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, knows the area particularly well. ”We found here some rare forests, specific to this part of Greece. My task is to record the coordinates and description of the forest on our maps, so that we know it can be an obstacle on the route.”
During the survey TAP’s archaeologists also faced an important challenge as a result of the area’s rich cultural heritage. The specialist team identified and documented monuments, churches and sites of historical importance and also met with the local administrations in charge of preserving the area’s cultural heritage. From them the team was able to collect valuable information on those sites that have not yet been recorded by the Greek Ministry of Culture, and therefore do not currently appear on any maps.
Dialogue with local residents starts early
As engineers, environmentalists and cultural heritage experts surveyed the surroundings, sociologists and stakeholder engagement specialists headed to the villages to establish contact with the local people. They met with regional governments, municipalities, mayors, community leaders, businessmen and NGOs in Kozani, Veroia, Filota and Kastoria.
The team’s initial goal was to introduce the project and explain the proposed routes; subsequently they gathered important feedback from local people on how the project might affect their livelihoods. The survey team asked many questions about the prospects of the villages: ”Do local authorities intend to build schools, hospitals or new infrastructure in this area?”, “Which areas should the future pipeline avoid in order not to interfere with their development?”, “What expectations do locals have regarding future engagement?”. They also asked for assistance, requesting access to local data to fill in information gaps on important sites and statistics.
Dr. Kai Schmidt Soltau, TAP’s Manager in charge of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, Land Acquisition and Corporate Social Responsibility reiterates the vital nature of this dialogue. “20 years ago, stakeholder engagement scared most companies. Today it is common practice that important energy projects engage with all stakeholders and explain their intentions. It is essential to ask for people’s opinions long before any construction decisions are made.”
At the same time, George Hatzidakis, TAP’s Greek media specialist, met with the editors of the leading newspapers in Kastoria. Journalists were surprised by the proactive approach and openness of TAP. Tryfonas Polygiannis, Editor of the Nea Kastoria newspaper, was particularly keen for information about the project “This is important news for our community and we want more information from TAP about everything it plans to do.”
Survey team plans to return this year to follow up on first findings
The first phase of the project provided huge amounts of detail about the positives and negatives of the western section of the pipeline system, allowing the TAP team to confirm the feasibility of four of the five route options. The final option was dismissed as a result of its potential interference with the lignite mines.
In February 2011, TAP will deploy the team for a second phase of the survey to investigate the eastern section of the pipeline system. Based on these findings, TAP’s management will have enough insight into the corridor route to select the preferred path in March and to validate the findings with authorities and stakeholders in April.
At the same time, the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) process will provide feedback from the authorities and other stakeholders which potential impacts to study in more detail, allowing the team to develop and validate the scoping report.