Muskrat Falls’ feet of clay can’t be ignored

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March 11’s column by Russell Wangersky reminded me once again of the many uncertainties surrounding the Muskrat Falls megaproject and our government’s refusal either to face them squarely or discuss them with the taxpayers of this province.

Ignoring Cabot Martin’s report on the quick-clay hazards at Muskrat Falls will not make them go away.

Readers have only to google this topic to see the extent of the quick-clay problem in the Northern hemisphere.

Massive mudslides can be triggered by the most trivial event, and MF is a sitting duck, despite Tom Marshall’s bland assurances that in the case of MF this will be “no problem.”

He gets his information from the “experts” at Nalcor, and they in turn get theirs from SNC Lavalin — that should make us all feel really safe and secure, shouldn’t it?

We are told that the risks can be averted by installing extra pumps along the North Spur to lower the water content of this looming wall of death.

We have no technical reports on how much extra pumping will be required, and I doubt that there is any reliable way to calculate this requirement.

And what if the pumps fail?

We all know that pumps can fail just when they’re needed most.

Remember Fukushima?

In Muskrat Falls, we are seeing the same kind of hubris and pigheadedness that pushed the Titanic full steam ahead toward her fatal encounter with an iceberg.

Similar overconfidence in existing technology will likely be the downfall of the MF project, with equally catastrophic consequences.

Whether it fails or not, the work needed in attempting to stabilize the North Spur will be a major contributor to the expected cost overruns.

A 2014 report from Oxford University was brought to my attention yesterday by David Vardy.

In this study of worldwide hydro dam construction, “Three out of every four large dams suffered a cost overrun in constant local currency terms.” And “Actual costs were on average 96 per cent higher than estimated costs; the median was 27 per cent (IQR 86 per cent). The evidence is overwhelming that costs are systematically biased towards underestimation.”

Does anyone really believe that our “experts” at Nalcor can beat those odds?

Just imagine MF costing double the original estimate. That would do wonders for our provincial debt and our credit rating, wouldn’t it?

Let’s face it, the MF project is not based on sound fiscal policy or 21st century energy technology.

Why would you expect either of these approaches from a government as woefully inept, willfully blind and financially reckless as ours?

And why would you expect either approach from Nalcor, an organization that is as out of touch, out of control, and behind the times as the occupants of Jurassic Park?

The MF project is based, instead, on little else but vindictiveness, egomania and greed. What a legacy to leave our grandchildren.

Tony Rockel


Organizations: SNC Lavalin, Oxford University

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, North Spur

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Recent comments

  • And The Tony Award Goes to...
    March 20, 2014 - 12:30

    Lets hope this gets resolved before the almight red machine gets back in power. We will again, as a province, be headed right back in debt again. And it won't take long before Dwight's Haircutting bills reach the public, along with the leftover magnets from Roger's time at the helm. This province is doomed. If it wasn't for the oil money that Mr. Williams brought to us, we'd be up the creek, sorry down the spur.

  • Winston Adams
    March 19, 2014 - 15:15

    As to my comment about the engineers iron ring. I recommend readers to google the words galloping gertie. You will get a movie picture from 1940 showing the third longest bridge in the world being destroyed by a 40 mph wind. The steel bridge is the story behind the iron ring that is to remind engineers of what can go wrong when good engineering principles are not followed. If one doubts that a small vibration can trigger disasters, whether in bridges or dams, this is another reminder. For this dam, a vibration of the right frequency and intensity can liquify the clay, causing collapse.

  • Winston Adams
    March 19, 2014 - 14:47

    One of the issues is once a slide starts, what is there to stop it. Just downstream of the North Spur is a big hole in the river some 200 feet deep. This is a place that allows a slide to keep going so that the whole Spur could collapse. And a slight vibration could be a trigger for a slide to start. Imagine spending 10 billion and the North Spur collapses. The loss of 10 billion is one thing, the loss of life downstream another. Surely every reasonable measure is needed to assure and verify the safety of this dam stability plan. It should have been done before project sanction. Looking at aerial photographs and reading about the quickclay problem and the danger it presents, as a student engineer who worked on the Upper Churchill dams, I have little confidence in the present design, especially when this has been found insufficient by other professionals with much expertise in this field. Engineers all know the story of the iron ring. This is a case that calls out for caution.

  • JD
    March 19, 2014 - 09:03

    Bert, 'John Smith' ignores evidence and repeatedly posts fabricated inaccuracies and he treats people like inferiors. Perhaps it eases his conscience. After all, he won't be accountable to subhumans. If the greatest fault we could ever have is not to recognize we have any, then more's the pity 'John Smith'.

  • Tony Rockel
    March 19, 2014 - 03:03

    In his report entitled "OUTLINE of SERIOUS CONCERNS on the ADEQUACY of LANDSLIDE ANALYSIS at the NORTH SPUR, MUSKRAT FALLS (January, 2014)", Swedish engineer Dr Stig Bernander expresses serious concerns about the inadequacy of Nalcor's report on stabilizing the North Spur. With 40 years' experience of quick-clay landslides, Dr Bernander is excellently qualified to speak on this topic. In his opinion, Nalcor has not adequately addressed the serious hazard posed by progressive downhill landslides and that they ignore this risk at everyone's peril.

  • JM
    March 18, 2014 - 15:23

    I do not believe that any professional engineer employed by Nalcor, would not give this issue the attention that it deserves. I do believe however that the management of Nalcor will downplay the risk in public in an effort to stem public concern, and probing. The Question I have in all of this is what is the track record of hydro containment systems of similar soil conditions. Has a quick clay soil formation ever been used as a dam, anywhere in the world. The second question I have is has SNC / Nalcor looked at the Spring freshet, when water levels are high, and there are dynamic loadings caused by the ice jamming in the river. I do think Nalcor should release more that the Science Fair poster they have on their website.

  • Dwight G
    March 18, 2014 - 14:38

    And starring tonight on Conspiracy Theory is the amusing ramblings of Tony the Liberal hack.

    • Tony Rockel
      March 19, 2014 - 14:11

      Me, a Liberal supporter??? You've got to be joking. I don't trust that bunch as far as I could kick them. But I do feel safe in assuming that Dwight is a Tory hack.

    • Dwight G
      March 20, 2014 - 07:57

      Wow, a 5th encore performance by Tony the Liberal hack.

    • Tony Rockel
      March 20, 2014 - 09:37

      Well, Dwight G, you must be as stupid as I thought you were when you posted your last inanity. Fact clearly don't matter to you.

    • Dwight G
      March 20, 2014 - 10:50

      Tony, Tony, Tony. Tony's going for the record of most posts in an article. The Liberal hack has now turned into a troll. Give us another post Tony and prove that you have become what you have accused others of being. Tony, Tony, Tony.

  • Bert
    March 18, 2014 - 11:31

    @Tony, it's amazing how you choose to jump on John Smith but continue to ignore the 100% bias remarks on every government story by Maurice and Dolf. It only shows you are no different . If it's against the government it's perfect. If you , Wangerly, Maurice and Dolf would once in a while agree with the government, your opinions would not be so laughable.

    • Maurice E. Adams
      March 18, 2014 - 12:18

      Finding hard to be truthful BERT?---- Here is one of my posts from yesterday (and which was also sent in to VOCM's Backtalk).----- Where is the bias? ============== "Our democratic government has been hijacked by Nalcor (designed by Danny, implemented by Dunderdale, and covered up by Marshall)...... aided and abetted by an impotent opposition (that is prepared to sit by, say little or nothing, and wait --- NO --- long for --- the mantle of power........... If the opposition were putting the best interests of NL citizens first, it would not be sitting back for another 12-18 months, and allow Nalcor to ruin this province........... It would increasingly pressure THIS government to put a hold on further Muskrat Falls expenditures --- pending an "independent" review --- and then put the matter (by referendum) to the people. "

    • Tony Rockel
      March 18, 2014 - 14:35

      Bert, anyone who knows me can tell you that I was equally hard on the Liberals when they were in power. I don't care what government it is, if they are doing something stupid, secretive and destructive, I will feel free to be as critical as I like, and man, this government is guilty of all 3 of these offences.

    • Say Wha
      March 18, 2014 - 14:40

      Did this guy just quote himself?

  • Me
    March 18, 2014 - 11:20

    Tony, suggest that you review It provides actual information that might help to reassure you that the the design of the North Spur works is rational, and relies upon more than pumps alone.

  • saelcove
    March 18, 2014 - 10:30

    if you need to know what the word corruption means ask SNC lavalin

  • Joe
    March 18, 2014 - 09:32

    I'm sure small business will be willing to pay increased taxes goes that those on Assistance can pay their power bills and a raise in minimum wage to say $15 so that workers can pay theirs.

  • Willa
    March 18, 2014 - 08:49

    With all that said, remember now that. HVGB is nothing but sand and we all know what would happen if there was ever a flood or washout from this mega project. With that being said, the highest ground in HVGB that would possibly used be an escape route is closed off and locked to the residents of HVGB by the military. I think that Nalcor, and the town, should have an escape route planned and in place should a flood ever occur.

  • John Smith
    March 18, 2014 - 07:31

    Time to adjust your tin foil hat Tony b'y...the black helicopters are on the way...LOL There is a 20% contingency built into the price of muskrat falls, which is only 7% shy of what you claim to be the mean for these projects. That's about 800-900 million dollars. Of course there will be further overuns...but what we need to remember is the project is still 2.5 billion cheaper than the nearest alternative. Imagine stating that all the regular NL people who go to work for NALCOR everyday, conceived this answer to our coming energy needs because of vindictiveness and greed...are you for real? This was the only logical, intelligent answer to our coming energy needs, and this has been backed up by several independant studies...but we all know that will never be enough for the lunatic fringe....

    • Maurice E. Adams
      March 18, 2014 - 07:58

      If my memory serves, Nalcor plans to go down a MINIMUM of 2.5 metres below the top of the top quick clay layer. And once the contractor gets there, what do you think the MAXIMUM will be (hundreds more to bedrock)? And at what cost? How many billion dollars more?.... And how about the fact that the pressure on the NORTH side of the upstream portion of the river increases at the SQUARE of the 20+ metre increase in the depth of the higher reservoir? Or of the 300 foot drop off (at a 13% slope) on the east side of the North Spur (see, NEWS and North Spur pages and link to Cabot Martin's presentation).

    • Ed Power
      March 18, 2014 - 08:36

      Yes, "several independant studies". Would one of those include the Manitoba Hydro study? And would this be the same Manitoba Hydro who underestimated the cost of their own Wuswatkim project by over 100%? I'm quite sure that , like our own NALCOR planners, the MHI planners also had a "contingency fund built into the price" of their project. I doubt, however, that they had salted away an extra billion dollars to cover that particular 'oopsie'. One certainly has to admire Mr. Pseudonymous Smith. It is a daunting task his employers have tasked him with, trying to turn this NALCOR sow's ear into a silk purse. He does try, but lately his efforts reek of desperation. It must be lonely job, toiling away in the bowels of the NALCOR bunker...

    • Tony Rockel
      March 18, 2014 - 10:37

      Typical pathetic attempt at ridicule by "John, the troll, Smith". So predictable ! What else could we expect from a Nalcor lapdog? You keep trotting out the same tired propaganda but you're fooling no one. Everyone knows that you are deceitful to the core. How does it feel to have sold your soul? How many pieces of silver did it take?

    • Morry
      March 18, 2014 - 12:50

      Two dogs and their bones.

    • Tony Rockel
      March 18, 2014 - 13:19

      Hey Morry, feeling left out? Didn't get your kibbles and bits from Nalcor today?

  • Charles Murphy
    March 18, 2014 - 06:16

    Break need to be put on this project ASAP. To much talk, Now its time for action.

  • Brian
    March 18, 2014 - 05:31

    Who Will make the big money on MF? SNC Lavalin and they are there to MAKE MONEY . They are not there for the succes of the projector ,to bring it in under budgetor to save the taxpayers . The " Experts "at Nalcor are not experts in this kind of project. The " Experts "at Nalcor and the people announced to do Oversite at the Provincial Governmentare not even close to being in a position to safeguard this project fo the taxpayers of the province. SNC Lavalin will give them the info. that they want them to have and nothing more . I hope that when the Liberal government is elected ---they will hire the people in our province that can get the answers for us . The real experts are here but Nalcor and the current government wouldn't listen . There will be a day that the " Experts " at Nalcor will be accountable and saying " no one could forsee" will not be enough.

  • flourlake
    March 18, 2014 - 05:27

    So true. I believe we all have been misled to SNC can proceed with the project. Is this another JC Doyle all over again? One would think they would listen to someone other that their own. We the voters will say. Good-by Danny and Company.