‘Dams made to sustain large earthquakes’

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(From left) Vishal Srivastava SEB project director (Hydropower Projects Development), Brian Giles SEB project director (Hydropower Development) and Torstein explaining to  The Borneo Post journalists during the meeting at Wisma SEB in Kuching yesterday.

(From left) Vishal Srivastava SEB project director (Hydropower Projects Development), Brian Giles SEB project director (Hydropower Development) and Torstein explaining to The Borneo Post journalists during the meeting at Wisma SEB in Kuching yesterday.

KUCHING: Although located in an area of low seismic activity, dams in Sarawak are designed to withstand earthquakes of significantly larger magnitudes than the recent one in Sabah that led to the tragic loss of 18 lives.

These dams include Batang Ai Hydropower Electricity Project (HEP), Bakun HEP, Murum HEP, Baram HEP and Baleh HEP.

Responding to The Borneo Post front page story yesterday ‘Hidden danger underground’, Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) chief executive officer Datuk Torstein Sjotveit told The Borneo Post in an exclusives interview of SEB’s standard operating procedures in building HEP dams in the state.

“In view of the recent earthquake in Sabah, Sarawak Energy will ensure this latest information is included in the project specific studies and the results will be incorporated into the final design of the projects,” said Torstein.

He further assured the people of Sarawak that the company’s hydropower projects (HEPs) have been designed according to the highest international technical standards for dam design and all dams have been built to last for a century.

“Specifically, our hydropower projects are designed in accordance with guidelines established by the International Committee on Large Dams (ICOLD), an international body set up in 1928 to share knowledge, and set standards and guidelines to ensure that dams are built and operated safely.

“These guidelines are also used to ensure dam safety worldwide and also in the so-called ‘seismically active’ regions of the world such as the Himalayas and Japan,” he said.

For seismic hazard assessment, Sarawak Energy appointed an Australian institute (Seismological Research Centre, Victoria) in 2009 to conduct a seismological study addressing deep seismic activity in the region. These have been incorporated in HEP development in Sarawak.

“In so far as seismic hazard assessment is concerned, we leave it to the Australian institute which is a world renowned authority in such studies, we do not need any independent auditing,” Torstein reiterated.

When asked on the possibility of dam-induced earthquake, Torstein said earthquake could not be created by a dam.

“We are talking about billions of kilo tonnes. It is not possible to create earthquake. We will ensure our groundwork does not create local disturbance,” he pointed out during the meeting.

On Baram HEP, the selection of the site was made after taking into consideration all the investigations and studies conducted in pre-feasibility and feasibility studies including potential seismic hazards.

For the purpose of clarification, localised seismic survey was undertaken at the planning stage of the Baram dam project to investigate subsurface conditions and select a suitable site. This is followed by borehole drilling at feasibility stage to build on the geological knowledge of the site.

“In the next phase of the project, additional borehole drilling will be undertaken to further ensure the integrity of the dam design. Unfortunately, this ground investigation has been disrupted by protesters at the site.

“With this level of due diligence and the data yielded from boreholes so far, no more seismic surveys are deemed necessary for the site,” he said.

However, with the on-going protests from the locals, Baram HEP has been put on halt.

“We will not be able to build the Baram HEP Dam without proper ground studies. We will do the ground studies as soon as the people of Baram invite us to do it. We are ready to go there anytime. But we are not going there if we are getting into trouble. We are not the police, we are technical people,” he asserted.