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Shell ‘kept crucial facts on pipeline from experts’

Irish Mail on Sunday

August 17, 2008

Shell ‘kept crucial facts on pipeline from experts’

By Valerie Hanley

AN INTERNAL report from a senior Government ecologist to officials at Environment Minister John Gormley’s department has severely criticised the environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared by Shell in its planning application to build a controversial gas pipeline in Mayo.

The damning critique, written by the National Parks and Wildlife Service’s ecologist Julie Fossitt, but as yet unpublished, claims that key information was withheld from specialists whose opinions were included in the planning documents submitted by Shell to An Bord Pleanala last April.

It also claims that protected habitats likely to be affected by the development were excluded from maps provided by the company.

The proposed development includes the construction, operation and maintenance of a gas pipeline between Glengad and the Bellanaboy Bridge terminal at Bellagelly South, a distance of 9.2km, and an above-ground landfall valve installation (LVI) at Glengad. The plan also includes associated temporary and permanent construction, site development and landscaping works, temporary site construction compounds, the permanent use and associated upgrading of the existing access road from the public road to the LVI, as well as temporary access roads.

Miss Fossitt prepared her report after visiting the Shell site on June 16 last and in her follow-up, five-page observation she describes many aspects of Shell’s environmental impact study as deficient and inadequate. She also criticises the company’s report for not including adequate monitoring.

Her findings are part of the submission made by the Department of the Environment to An Bord Pleanala over the building of the proposed gas pipeline.

A copy only became available after a local resident paid the €146.65 fee for a freedom of access to environmental information request to Green Party Minister Gormley’s department.

According to Miss Fossitt, it is vital that a comprehensive environmental impact assessment be done before the proposed development is built because the Shell gas pipeline has ‘the potential to have significant effects’ on two protected conservation areas – the Glenamoy Bog and Blacksod Bay.

Yet, as the ecologist points out in her submission, Shell still insists in planning documents: ‘No significant effects are likely to arise as a result of disturbance caused by the proposed development on the Glenamoy Bog Complex and Blacksod Bay/Broadhaven’.

Shell carried out what it describes as a screening exercise of the development’s likely impact on protected local habitats. But the report prepared by Miss Fossitt reveals that Shell never provided the results of this study to the Department of the Environment.

And as a result, the senior Government ecologist completely contradicts Shell’s stance on whether environmental impact studies are required.

In a strongly worded criticism, she concludes; ‘Appropriate assessment is required and the findings must be available to the Board to inform the decision on whether to authorise the project.

She continues: ‘There are significant deficiencies in the EIS and impact assessment as the project ecologists did not have access to key sections of the proposed pipeline route.’

An Bord Pleanala is currently reviewing Shell’s planning application and two weeks ago, it requested further information from the company.

Meanwhile, a complaint has been lodged with the European Commission criticising both Green Party Ministers, Eamon Ryan and Mr Gormley, for allowing Shell to go ahead with construction work on the site while the planning authority is still reviewing the case.

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