Government halts activity at gas storage plant as tremors worsen

More than 20 earthquakes were detected during Wednesday night alone The Castor project will make use of a depleted oilfield to supply Spain’s gas needs

The Castor project injection platform.
The Castor project injection platform.Jaume Sellart (EFE)

The Industry Ministry and the Valencia regional government announced on Thursday that work on an offshore gas-storage plant, located off Spain’s Mediterranean coast, would be halted indefinitely until the cause of a series of earthquakes that have been detected in coastal towns in the area is established.

Industry, Energy and Tourism Minister José Manuel Soria announced on Thursday that there “appears to be” a “direct relation” between the injection of gas into the Castor offshore storage plant and the tremors. The minister did, however, add that there was still no “scientific evidence” to prove a cause and effect.

Speaking to radio station Onda Cero, Soria confirmed that scientists from the National Geographic Institute and the Geological Mining Institute were investigating the causes of the earth tremors in the area, and will determine whether they are being triggered by the giant storage plant, which works by injecting gas into a depleted oilfield located 1,800 meters below sea level.

Soria also pointed out that on September 26, after a tremor measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale was detected, he ordered a halt to the work on the EU-backed facility, which is the largest of its kind in Spain and is located 22 kilometers from the coast of Vinaròs, in the Valencia region province of Castellón.

The Zapatero government failed to investigate the seismic consequences of the storage plant

The minister ordered the closure, he said, “until we know exactly what is going on.”

It also emerged on Thursday that the former Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero failed to investigate the seismic consequences that the installation of the storage plant could have.

The Valencia regional government warned the Industry Ministry that a study should be carried out before the plant was installed, according to the region’s territory chief, Santi Vila. But the warning fell on deaf ears, he claimed.

The Castor storage plant, which belongs to a company called Escal, was being filled with gas when the tremors began. According to data from the National Geographic Institute, a total of 23 tremors were detected on Wednesday night. Two of these registered 3.9 and 3.8 on the Richter scale. According to Santi Vila, another tremor measuring 4.2 on the Richter scale was also detected in the early hours of Thursday.

The Castor Project, which has a total cost of 1.2 billion euros, is designed to make use of a depleted oilfield to store up to a third of Spain’s gas needs during 50 days. But it would seem that the injection of gas has caused hundreds of tremors since September 13, most of which have been on a minor scale.

A number of experts in geology have confirmed that the tremors are indeed related to the Castor Project, due to the injection of gas into the rock. But there is no consensus as to the risks and the evolution of the problem.

The company in charge of the project says that the gas injections were ended several days before the work was halted by the ministry, but the regional government of Catalonia — which is also involved in the affair, given its geographical proximity to Castellón — is not ruling out negligence.

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