The ESB is to be brought back before an Oireachtas committee to answer more questions about the leaking of 1 million litres of hazardous oil from underground power cables.

The Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment decided to issue the invite after the committee received a briefing from the Environmental Protection Agency which was extremely critical of a series of failings by the ESB related to the leaking of hazardous oil and SF6 gas.  

The committee made the decision on foot of a proposal by Fianna Fáil Deputy Timmy Dooley, who today called on the ESB to engage with the whistleblower in the case, Seamus O'Loughlin.

"The report vindicates the whistleblower for raising his head above the parapet and speaking out," said Deputy Dooley. "And as the EPA has acknowledged, their report also vindicates public service broadcasting as the EPA confirmed it would not have known about this environmental damage but for the revelations by RTÉ Investigates," he said.

The disclosures about the leaks were revealed in the RTÉ Investigates documentary, The ESB Leaks, broadcast in June. This led to the setting up of the Oireachtas committee hearings and the EPA investigation.

The EPA has confirmed that, contrary to claims by the ESB, the oil leaking from the cables is hazardous. The ESB previously told the committee hearings that the oil "is readily biodegradable". However, the EPA found that the oil is often a combination of fluid which "is not readily biodegradable in the environment" and that "such a mixture must be classified as hazardous."

The findings by the EPA vindicated the claims by the whistleblower Seamus O’Loughlin that the ESB failed to report most of the oil leaks to the local authorities, as it was required to do under the Water Pollution Act.

"In light of the findings by the EPA, I think the ESB should accept responsibility for the environmental damage it has caused," said Deputy Dooley."And they should now recognise the heroic work done by the whistleblower Seamus and engage with him and help him on his career path."

The EPA also revealed that the agency is considering taking enforcement action against the ESB over the power company’s management of a gas called SF6 which has a global warming potential 23,000 times greater than CO2.

The agency disclosed that the ESB failed to report massive leaks of this gas from its Moneypoint plant, contrary to the terms of its license. It also failed to report the leaks to Europe under the European Pollutant Transfer Register requirements.

Moneypoint Power Station.

In his protected disclosures, Seamus O’Loughlin revealed that during 2016 and 2017 alone, the ESB leaked 1,2000 kilos of the gas, which is the equivalent of 28,000 tonnes of CO2.

The EPA found that a further 28,000 tonnes of CO2 was leaked by the ESB between 2013 and 2015.

Again in his protected disclosures, Mr O’Loughlin said that the use and management of this gas was incoherent and poorly recorded by the ESB.

The EPA makes similar conclusions, saying that the management and control of this highly potent gas is "operationally rather than environmentally focused with sustained and prolonged leaks from equipment within the ESB Networks Compound."

The EPA concluded that ESB records relating to the gas "were inadequate to control and minimise leakage of SF6. During the EPA site visit these records were insufficient to support the determination of SF6 losses and associated leakage rates."