Your Plant – My Environment

Your Plant – My Environment by F.E. Dean.
At the Durrington Community Centre, 14th March, 1990.

Mr. Dean introduced himself as a “simple chemical engineer, turned gas engineer, turned somewhat reluctantly environmental engineer in 1966, to help build the new gas industry. He began by defining some commonly used terms, e.g. “Environment” covers a wide range of disciplines Einstein described it as “everything that isn’t me”. “Ecology” – a science relating human beings to their environment. The environmental engineer is faced with two basic problems.
1) arising from risk and uncertainty.
2) arising from inter-disciplinary communications.

Risks have to be assessed, guarding against known hazards can be extremely expensive, while there is a low probability of an accident occurring and the consequences of one are largely an unknown quantity. From 1988 preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment has been on E.E.C. requirement for all major projects. The importance of all involved speaking the same technical language is vital. Even so, there are many problems during the stage of public consultation. If decision rested with the public, nothing would ever get built, a typical example being a nuclear waste disposal facility.

The Developer is seldom much interested in engineering details. The lowest cost solution is not always the preferable. The Local Planning Officer and the various Amenity Societies each have an imput to make. Finally there is the decision maker, almost always a layman in the technical aspects of the work to be carried out. Modern techniques useful in E.I.A. presentation include the C.A.D. capability of super-posing proposals on photographs of the existing site.
Examples from the speaker’s experience, particularly during construction of the gas grid, were used as illustration. Slides showed the steps taken to minimise the impact of a booster station on the countryside, both visual and from a noise point of view.
In discussion reference was made to the ignorance of many M.P.s. and Civil Servants of engineering matters involved in their decisions. We learned that money spent on environmental protection can often be justified by earlier consents: one example was a saving of £30 million on a project set against £7 million additional cost of accommodating environmental objections. There are still substantial supplies of Natural Gas under the North Sea, safeguarded by ability to import, liquified and to make a substitute from a wide range of feedstocks.