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Indymedia: Shell’s Corrib Gas Project in Context

For over a year now all work has been stopped on Shell and the Irish state’s attempts to build gas refinery and production pipeline in Erris, County Mayo, aka the Corrib gas project.

This overview seeks to put the resistance to the planned destruction in context, by looking at the potential for oil and gas exploitation in Ireland, and at the positive impacts the struggle in Mayo can have, and is having, on other situations. Though firstly I’ll look at the issues around this mis-development, and I’ll conclude by looking at what activities we will be carrying out in the near future.

Environmental Impacts:

The local environmental impact of living next door to Shell is perhaps best appreciated by considering the words of people who already do:

“We have huge amounts of people … that are affected with Shell’s dumping of tons and tons of toxic chemicals into the air. This has resulted in … asthma, as well as leukaemia and cancer, which is prevalent, very rife and high … in my neighbourhood fifty two percent [52%] of the educated and learned at a local primary school have got asthma, and the leukaemia rate is twenty four [24] times the norm than anywhere else in South Africa.” – Des D’Sa, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, South Africa.

“We see a side of Shell that its board of directors and managers try to hide from the public. The Shell we know recklessly operates an oil refinery across the street from our homes. Every day Shell dumps toxic pollution on our neighbourhood that is damaging our health, especially our children who can’t breathe without an inhaler.”
– Hilton Kelley, Community In-power Development Association, Texas, USA

In addition to the proposed refinery’s air emissions the site adjoins Carrowmore Lake, the source of the regional public drinking water supply. Waste from the refinery is to be dumped into Broadhaven bay, home to seals, dolphins and whales, and which is a source of livelihood to local people through fishing. The refinery will be a contributor to climate chaos, pumping out annually the same amount of carbon dioxide as 10,000 cars, with methane emissions on top of that.

Part of the production pipeline from the wellhead to the refinery goes nine kilometres over land, past people’s homes. Last year an independent safety analysis by US-based pipeline consultants, Accufacts, found: “The Corrib pipeline is not a ‘normal’ pipeline, given its potential to operate under exotically high pressures and because of unknown gas compositions associated with gas field production. This can seriously increase the likelihood of pipeline failure.”

The Accufacts safety analysis states that: “pipeline routing should be at least 200 metres away from dwellings and 400 metres away from unsheltered individuals to avoid massive casualties and/or multiple fatalities.”

Should it be built the pipeline would be 70m from homes, 30m from a public road and three families would have to cross over the pipeline every day to leave their houses.

Oil and Gas in Ireland:

According to industry sources considerable reserves of oil and gas may exist off the Irish coastline. The CEO of one of the major local players, Providence Resources, claims: “there is no doubt that this is the best time to be in the oil and gas industry”.

Right now there are three significant known gas fields off the west coast; Spanish Point, Dunquin, and Corrib. In addition to this there are a number of oil and gas ‘shows’, findings which have to be probed more to see if there is any major quantity present.
The feasibility of exploiting Spanish Point is being considered by Providence, the company that holds the licence to the discovery, and in February 2006 the same company entered into a deal with Exxon-Mobil (aka Esso) to develop Dunquin.

The major part of the infrastructure the state plans to see built for Corrib Gas, the on shore refinery at Ballinaboy in north-west Mayo, will take up only an eight of the 400 acre site upon which they plan to locate it. So they have considerable room for expansion to build an entire complex feeding the oil and gas industry.

In January 2005 the Department of the Marine was offering exploration licences with the sweetener: “The infrastructure of the Corrib Field could significantly reduce the development cost of any further commercial discoveries in the vicinity.”

Alternatively the disregarding of the people and environment of Erris, County Mayo, discarded in favour of company profits, could prove to be a precedent for further
mis-developments all along the coast to exploit the other fields.

Another Shell/Statoil combination is seeking frontier exploration licences in an arc of territory encircling the northwest and west of Ireland, and in autumn last year Shell received a 16-year licence to drill for oil and gas in the Rockall basin, off the Donegal coast. In what is believed to be linked to this Shell has sought meetings with Donegal County Council, the local government in the most northerly part of the Republic, which would have some jurisdiction over on land planning.

Moreover at the moment Ireland, and other E.U. states, are making various efforts to expand their territorial waters further out into the Atlantic, into areas where the water is too deep for commercial drilling with today’s technology and prices, but which may hold viable reserves for the future.

In addition to all this there is a plan to develop an inland gas field, in the Lough Allen basin, which straddles counties Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan and Fermanagh, in the north west of the country, about two hours drive east of where Shell have been stopped.

The Domino Effect:

There are a multitude of community-based struggles in opposition to hazardous developments in Ireland, against incinerator projects in Dublin, Cork and Meath, against pylons in many rural areas. The resistance to Shell in Mayo has been quite high profile and has served as an inspiration to many. At the moment two other residents’ groups, in Bantry, Co Cork, and in Limerick, are defying court orders to desist from direct action against mis-developments. Quite a few of the people in these many campaigns are in personal contact with Mayo campaigners and with people who have been involved in Rossport Solidarity Camp, a protest camp opposing Shell.

International visitors to the camp, particularly South African activists with their own local problems with Shell, have said they have been following what is going on here in Ireland as it is part of their fight too.

Into the Future:

Rossport Solidarity Camp was set up in June 2005, on the route of the raw gas pipeline. We will soon be holding meetings at the Earth First! Summer Gathering in Wales ) and at the Camp for Climate Action in the north of England ( ).

In the spring of 2007 we plan an international protest against Shell, highlighting their activities in Africa and Russia, as well as in Ireland. Right now one of our main jobs is ready the camp’s physical structures for winter. At the end of this week a number of campers will be taking part in ‘the long walk’, a cross-country trek from Rossport in Mayo to Dublin, aimed at publicising what Shell and the state are up to.

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