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Irish Echo Online: Co. Mayo gas line to go ahead

Concern as Shell ready to resume work on pipeline
By Diarmaid Pléimionn
[email protected]

Shell says it hopes to resume work on its controversial gas pipeline in County Mayo next month after a delay of over a year due to an ongoing dispute with local residents.

The Anglo-Dutch petrochemical giant says it will re-route the pipeline away from houses of people including those of the Rossport Five, who went to jail last year for obstructing construction in breach of a court order.

The company has also announced that it is to offer local businesses contracts worth €5 million ($6.4 million) for services and work on the controversial pipeline. Protestors in Rossport near Bangor Erris in Mayo remain opposed to the project to pump unrefined gas at high pressure from the Corrib field in the Atlantic Ocean. The pipeline which is backed by the Irish government will pump gas at over 140 times atmospheric pressure, along a route which was to run as close as 80 yards from some homes in one of the most remote and beautiful areas of Ireland.

Five men went to jail for three months last year after Shell said they broke a court order it had obtained to enable construction to go ahead. But the locals’ struggle captured Irish and international attention, pitting people from a remote rural community against one of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world.

Shell has not yet given details of the new route for the pipelinr, but it is expected to follow the recommendations made in an Irish government-appointed mediator’s report last month which recommended routing the pipeline away from houses in Rossport.

Speaking about the plan to award contracts locally, Shell’s Irish deputy managing director Terry Nolan said that the company was responding to the concerns of local people that the project was not delivering benefits to them.

“We believe that it is time now to move this project forward so that it can start to deliver tangible jobs and benefits for the local community,” said Mr Nolan.

However the announcements have been strongly criticised by the opponents of the project. The Shell to Sea protest group wants the gas to be refined on a platform at sea, and pumped ashore – safer they say than pumping less uniform unrefined material through a pipeline to a refinery over six miles inland.

“The reality is that nothing in this project has changed at any kind of serious level and merely tweaking a pipeline route through more or less the same corridor in Rossport falls way short of what is required,” said spokesman Dr Mark Garavan.

He also criticised Shell’s decision to proceed with work on its refinery terminal site.

“Shell’s decision to move forward with work on the Bellanaboy site gives the lie to their claims to operate with consent and agreement. No pipeline route has yet been proposed by them and no agreement yet exists for such a route. In this context the decision to begin work at the gas processing plant pre-judges the pipeline issue and presents the local community once again with a fait accompli,” he added.

Dr Garavan maintained the promise of local contracts was tokenistic and a public relations exercise.

“Given the development cost of the project which is approximately €1bn ($1.28bn), the value of the Corrib gas reserve which is in excess of €10bn ($12.8bn) and the enormous profits of Shell and their partners, the sourcing of €5M ($6.4bn) among local businesses can be seen as mere tokens and designed only to create the illusion of local benefits. The fact of the matter is that, under their current proposal, the vast majority of Shell’s investment would be to companies outside the region,” he said.

Shell is expected to seek to re-route the pipeline by availing of existing planning consents granted to it by special exemption from normal planning procedures by a controversial government minister Frank Fahey in 2002. Mr Fahey has been the subject of inquiries into his handling of a fund to owners of sunken trawlers – a large proportion of which ended up being awarded to owners in his own constituency, and has been subject to press attention over a failed business venture in Moscow by an Irish firm which he maintains he was not involved in although admits his wife was involved in running the business. Russian mafia mobsters later ousted the Irish from the enterprise.

Opponents of the gas pipeline say that Shell was awarded planning exemption against which locals were given no right to object. Those against the project are also critical of the Irish government’s decision to waive royalties for oil and gas finds in its waters, and tax relief to exploration companies, saying that multinational corporations like Shell will reap high profits while the Irish taxpayer will get nothing. Along with Marathon, one of Shell’s partners in the project is Statoil, in which the Norwegian government is the majority shareholder, meaning that profits from the Corrib gas field will benefit the Norwegian taxpayer more than their Irish counterparts. The Irish government however argues that generous incentives are needed to encourage the private sector to harvest a vital natural resource for Ireland.

Legal action remains outstanding however, with a hearing for a judicial review granted to opponents of the project due to be heard later this year. The High Court in Dublin recently ordered Shell to produce documents for this hearing, including those relating to the granting of the petroleum lease by the Irish State for the project and planning consents. Other legal issues such as Shell’s High Court order against the Rossport Five still remain active although Shell says it wishes to review this. However counterclaims against Shell by opponents of the project also remain live and could also be heading for court.

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