Oily problem at ESB

By Mark Davy

Whistle blower Séamus O’Loughlin was at the centre of RTÉ’s PrimeTime Investigates, which prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to take action after Mr. O’Loughlin brought to light 160kms of underground, low pressure, fluid-filled cables leaking oil at a rate of 40,000 litres a year for the past 20 years.

Mr. O’Loughlin, who had worked with the ESB for over 25 years, claimed that most of the affected lines were in the Dublin city area and were insulated power lines which had been laid in the 1950’s and had reached the end of their life span.

Mr O’Loughlin told RTÉ “I just couldn’t compute it, to be honest. I was astounded.” The programme referenced confidential internal documents which revealed that the ESB were aware that over the past 20 years up to 1 million litres of oil was leaked from these heavy-duty electrical cables into the Dublin’s eco-system. 

In response to the expose, an ESB spokesperson said that “the oil was biodegradable and the leakage rate has been on a downward trend in recent years.” However, internal ESB documents obtained by the RTÉ Investigates team marked highly confidential, stated that the leaks could have a “very high environmental impact, given the proximity to the Grand Canal” and that the oil is “not considered compatible with watercourses and the associated eco-systems, rivers and canals.” 

Following this series of disclosures, an ESB spokesperson continued to stress the ESB’s priority to work closely with environmental agencies at all stages of operations, but the EPA stated the first time they were made aware of any leaks was not until May 27th 2019.

The EPA stressed this was after RTÉ Investigates had contacted both the ESB and EPA. The EPA continued “Given the alleged scale and duration of these incidents as reported by RTÉ and the correspondence received this week from ESB Networks, the EPA has launched an immediate investigation into the matter.” 

Chris Andrews, a Sinn Féin Councillor who represents the area worst affected by the leaks between Ringsend and Harold’s Cross, and a founding member of the environmental group Friends of the Grand Canal, described the Prime Time revelations as “deeply disturbing.”

Cllr Andrews went on to say “It is scandalous that such a volume of oil leaks across Dublin City was known to the ESB but never reported to either the EPA or the City Council. We do not know the full implications of these leaks for the environment and for human health. Urgent action is required, a full assessment of damage done and a programme to prevent further leaks. The Sinn Féin Group on Dublin City Council will be calling for a full report on this to be given by Chief Executive Owen Keegan at the first full meeting of the new City Council.”

This allegation was one of several environmental and safety hazard issues raised by Mr. O’Loughlin on the programme.