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Corrib Gas: Was it worth it? Yes.

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Corrib Gas: Was it worth it? Yes.

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Brendan Cafferty: 27 JAN 2016

As the gas starts to flow a member of the pro gas lobby reflects on the controversy

Who is to blame for the delay?

The gas was due ashore in 2002 at a cost of €800 million. It finally arrives at the start of 2016 at a cost of €3.5 billion-€4 billion. Planning such a huge project was, of course, protracted, with EPA and An Bord Pleanála hearings. Kevin Moore, the board’s planning inspector, did at the outset recommend that planning not be granted for the terminal at Ballinaboy, but the board of An Bord Pleanála did not agree with him – something that is not unusual.

Ministerial permission for a pipe through Rossport village (which 27 out of 32 farmers had no problem with) was later withdrawn by Shell and a new route applied for, which had to acquire planning. Bord Pleanála directed that a tunnel be inserted under Sruwaddacon bay for about 5km at a cost of at least €40 million. Many felt this was unnecessary and a sop to protesters.

Bob Hanna of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources wrote to Bord Pleanála in 2010 complaining that the decision was based on the consequences of an accident rather than potential of one. He said it was akin to having to build an aircraft that would never crash.

What was the cost to the environment?

This project is, in my opinion, an example of how to protect the environment. This is borne out by experts, who have said it has been so carefully managed ecologically that by 2020 there will be no net loss of biodiversity and possibly a net gain.

Another team of ecologists said the project will, at worst, have a neutral impact on the immediate environment, though most likely a net and positive impact in biodiversity terms because of habitat enhancement measures.

What was the human cost?

Regarding the abuse of civil liberties, it is a fact that the project was closed down for quite a period in 2005 and 2006 due to protests. People prevented from going to work. The then government had to face that head on, gardaí who had to escort workers on to site were assaulted, and culprits who appeared before our independent courts and were convicted.

Damage was done to property. Many innocent contractors, such as transport and quarry owners, faced costs of hundreds of thousands of euro in damaged properties and vehicles.

What did it cost the taxpayer?

Our economy, of course, has suffered due to protests as Shell can write off costs against tax. There is a €2.5 billion overrun on the project, thanks mostly to protests, so the state will lose about €600 million in that alone as a result. Of course, there are additional State costs; Garda overtime cost about €15 million alone.

However, Belmullet and its environs thrived for the 10 years or so during construction, and never, in fact, saw the recession, as anyone who visits the area can testify. When I lived and worked in the area in the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s, the Erris region was a rather forlorn place.

Was it given away?

Norway is often quoted when making comparisons with Ireland in matters of tax and royalties. There the success rate is 1 in 4 holes drilled; here it is more than 1 in 50. Each drilling costs about €50 million, which Norway’s government refunds unsuccessful drillers. Can anyone imagine Ireland remotely considering this? Despite the myth of “giveaway” concessions, there are no flotillas queuing up to come to Ireland. In fact, the opposite is the case.

Are we now energy secure? This project will supply about 60 per cent of our gas needs for the next 20 years. It is clean and reliable. While gas is currently plentiful and prices are low, who knows what lies ahead? There could be instability in the Middle East or Russia, from where we import gas via Scotland. Experts estimate that even one single day’s loss from Scotland would cost us €350 million-€600 million a day in the absence of an alternative gas supply.

What was the reputational damage?

The Shell experience will not help here in future projects. Ireland may have to come with a health warning! Could Shell have approached the matter differently at the outset as regards to getting acceptance? Of course it could, but hindsight is a great thing.

Some say the protests show a need for leadership in replacing reliance on fossil fuels with renewable energy solutions that respect people, planet, and exchequer. The experience with proposed wind farms and pylons in north Mayo and elsewhere also caused convulsions here recently. What do we want?

Brendan Cafferty is secretary of Pro Gas Mayo

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1 Comment on “Corrib Gas: Was it worth it? Yes.”

  1. #1 Monica Muller
    on Jan 27th, 2016 at 19:47

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Two contrasting views on Corrib Gas published by your paper makes interesting reading:

    Corrib gas a ‘template’ for ‘how not to undertake a development’

    British engineers’ group say more democratic approach could have avoided cost overruns.


    Brendan Cafferky’s opinion of the Corrib Gas Project – “This project is, in my opinion, an example of how to protect the environment” is the expression of his decade long unstinting support of Shell.

    The Pro Gas Mayo group has three or four members, none of them living in the vicinity to the terminal or gas pipeline which may explain why safety issues did not arise for them. Mr. Cafferty seems not to be aware that Corrib Gas Partners can sell their share of gas to whomever they wish but not the Irish Nation. Once Corrib gas is pumped into the Bord Gais gas network it can be sold by way of sale, gas swap and virtual trading – even outside of Ireland. Just because the terminal is in Ireland does not guarantee security of gas supply to Irish customers. It’s a free market.

    Mr. Cafferty is not very good on Norwegian history.

    Norway’s policies on oil and gas were decided at a time when Norway was told that the nation will never be an oil and gas rich nation, luckily for the Norwegian people they decided to stay in control of their resources just in case. That was in the early 70th and by now they can afford to reduce royalties and tax.

    Unfortunately, the Irish decision makers decided in the late 1990 to change fiscal terms and hand all Irish natural resources to the industry, lock, stock and barrel. Time will tell how much Ireland will have lost.

    I rather agree with the British Engineers – Corrib Gas is a story of how not to undertake a development. If it is left to Mr. Cafferty = I guess he would do it all again, in the same way.


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