Brunei LNG project successful at keeping forest fires away

National 2 minutes, 20 seconds

BELAIT

A PILOT project launched two years ago to prevent forest fires from hitting Brunei LNG water pipelines has proven successful.

It works by raising the water level in the surrounding area by blocking off canals that typically drain peat forest swamps.

According to an associate expert from Global non-governmental organisation Wetlands International (WI), results showed that the water level was successfully raised, which subsequently reduced the number of forest fires in the area.

Dr Jonathan Davies explained that maintaining the water levels of peat swamps is “crucial” to preventing fires as dry peat is highly flammable.

The project was initiated when Brunei LNG replaced their pipelines leading to the Badas water pump station, much of it which is on peat land.

Wetlands International, who collaborated with Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP) to survey 30,000 hectares of Brunei Shell Joint Venture Companies’ (BJSV) concession land, recommended raising the water level as a foundation that would allow the area to be “restored”, and subsequently reduce the risk of fires of catching and spreading nearby.

A 14 kilometre stretch of road where the Brunei LNG water pipeline runs through was the focus of the project, with 29 blocks constructed at 200 metre intervals.

After the project started in mid 2014, groundwater levels were monitored monthly for a year.

“Contrary to what most people think, not all peat land is susceptible to fire. Peat swamp forests, in their natural state, can compose of up to 90 per cent water and are (in this state) fairly resistant to fires,” he said.

However several factors, the main being canals, deforestation and fires, can drain and reduce the amount of water in peat swamp forests, making them prone to catching fire.

“It is dry peat is highly flammable. So when the ratio of dry to wet peat shifts, and you combine this with unfavourable weather conditions (dry and hot), a small fire to the area can spread rapidly above and below the ground,” he said.

In addition to the direct damage fires can have to the pipeline, a more long-term effect that also requires attention is the sinking of the surrounding land, which has been reportedly taken place according to a biodiversity action plan carried out by BSP and WI.

The sinking effect, called land subsidence, has been brought on by the gradual thinning of peat due deforestation and recurring fires, which have outstripped the peat swamp forests’ ability to naturally restore itself.

Subsidence of up to two metres was reported in the plan, with Badas one of several areas significantly affected. WI has recommended that direct intervention be taken to “restore” the area through re-vegetation.

“But for the re-vegetation effect to last, the problem of a low water level has to be addressed first. Only with a sufficient water level can the peat swamp forest thrive,” said Davies.

The Brunei Times