Muskrat Falls’ feet of clay can’t be ignored

Published on March 18, 2014

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