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Shell Opens Natural Gas Wells Off Irish Coast

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A wall of steel protects the workers at the entrance to the Corrib gas terminal site, which opened on Wednesday in Bellanaboy Bridge, Ireland. Credit Paul McErlane/Bloomberg News

LONDON — Two decades after being discovered, natural gas began flowing on Wednesday from wells off Ireland’s northwest coast. Royal Dutch Shell, the oil company, said it had begun producing gas from undersea wells, part of an effort for Ireland to produce more of its own resources.

Opening the taps in the Corrib field, more than 50 miles offshore, is a breakthrough for the oil and gas industry in Ireland, which had mostly disappointing results in recent years while encountering resistance from environmental groups.

The gas was discovered in 1996, and Shell has struggled to win approval from the government for the project, which has long been opposed by local environmental campaigners. Philip Robinson, a Shell spokesman, attributed the long interval between discovery and the start of production to environmental opposition, but said relations with the local communities had improved in recent years.

Kinsale Head, the only other major discovery off Ireland, which imports nearly all of its fuel needs, including large volumes of gas, has been online since 1978. Periodic bursts of excitement about oil and gas troves that might be found in Irish waters have ended up sputtering.

Pat Shannon, chairman of the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association, a trade group, said that the area where Corrib is, known as the Atlantic Margin, was promising for oil and gas operators.

“I think this is a very significant day for the exploration industry in Ireland,” Mr. Shannon said.

Alex White, Ireland’s minister for communications, energy and natural resources, gave Shell the final go-ahead on Tuesday, saying that Ireland would benefit from having its own resources. In approving the project, Mr. White said he had made consent subject to 20 conditions, including “environmental management.”

Mr. White added that Ireland was committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and that gas, which is used for generating electric power, had a role in easing the transition to a greener economy. Developing local gas, Mr. White said, “will deliver significant and sustained benefits, particularly in terms of enhanced security of supply” and economic development.

The minister said that the gas would meet more than 40 percent of demand on the island.

Shell says that along with its partners, Statoil of Norway and Vermilion Energy Ireland, it has spent 1.1 billion euros, or $1.2 billion, on the project and that Corrib would provide 175 jobs for up to 20 years.

Terence Conway, a spokesman for the group Shell to Sea, which has fought the project, said that opponents, who worried that building a large gas processing facility on land at a place called Bellanaboy Bridge risked accidents and pollution, had few options left. “There is not much more we can do at the moment,” he said.

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