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130 objections lodged against Shell licence application

Lorna Siggins & Áine Ryan - Irish Times

THE DEPARTMENT of the Environment has received more than 130 submissions in response to a foreshore licence application by Shell EP Ireland for investigative work in north Mayo’s Sruwaddacon estuary.

The company aims to drill up to 80 boreholes in the estuary, which is a candidate Special Area of Conservation (SAC), as part of site investigation work for the Corrib gas onshore pipeline route.

The work, costing between €5 million and €10 million according to the company, will take place over a five- to seven-month period in the narrow intertidal estuary running between the communities of Rossport, Glengad and Pollathomas.

Late last year, An Bord Pleanála suggested that the Corrib gas developers might explore the estuary as an alternative to a modified onshore route. The board found half of the modified 9km route to be “unacceptable” on safety grounds, due to proximity to housing in Rossport and between Glengad and Aughoose.

Shell consultants RPS had ruled against running the high-pressure pipeline through Sruwaddacon on environmental and technical grounds two years ago.

The consultants had noted in December 2007 that Sruwaddacon was designated under EU habitats directive annex 1 habitats, and the bay was an “integral part of the Glenamoy river salmonid fishery”.

The community group Pobal Chill Chomáin, Shell to Sea and the Rossport Solidarity Camp, and individual residents have submitted objections to the foreshore licence application.

Shell to Sea has called on Minister for the Environment John Gormley to reject the application as it would entail “destructive” surveying works which, it is feared, would degrade the estuary’s SAC status.

Responsibility for foreshore licensing, apart from aquaculture, was transferred to Mr Gormley’s department last year. More than two years ago, Mr Gormley ordered Shell to restore an SAC at Glenamoy bog, which had been drilled without special authorisation.

Shell EP Ireland could not comment on the concerns raised, as it is “in process”. However, its application says that the boreholes will be no more than 30mm in diameter to minimise disturbance and “it is not anticipated” that the work will have an adverse impact on the SAC.

Earlier this month, the company indicated that work on key parts of the project, if approved, would take place next year.

In a related development, Pobal Chill Chomáin representatives Leo Corcoran and John Monaghan met the EU Petitions Committee in Brussels yesterday to highlight their concerns about the Corrib gas project.

Also, Galway City Council passed a motion by nine votes to three this week, calling for an independent investigation into the sinking of a shellfish boat last year owned by Pat O’Donnell, an Erris fisherman who is serving a seven-month jail sentence for threatening behaviour towards a garda and wilful obstruction of a peace officer in September 2008.

Erris fishermen met Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív earlier this week to raise concerns about the jailing.

Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association chairman Eddie Diver stressed that his group was not commenting on the judicial process, but on the particular circumstances caused by the protracted Corrib controversy that had led to Mr O’Donnell’s imprisonment.