"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
The Corrib gas project entails exploiting a natural gas deposit off the northwest coast of Ireland. The field is located about 80 km off Erris Head in County Mayo, in water depths of 355 metres. The natural gas field, discovered in 1996, was the first reported commercial natural gas discovery in Ireland since the Kinsale Head gas field in 1973. The gas is from Triassic strata. The company set up to exploit the field is a conventure of Shell E&P Ireland (operator 45%), Statoil Exploration (Ireland) Limited (36.5%), and Marathon International Petroleum Hibernia Limited (18.5%). Reserves in the field are believed to be about 30 billion cubic metres (1 trillion ft³) 70% the volume of the Kinsale field.
The Shell to Sea campaign opposes the current plans for the project, which it regards as dangerous, despite assurances from Shell. The level of opposition to the current configuration of the project has led to a large amount of security at the refinery building site at Bellanaboy.
Shell have proposed to develop the Corrib field as a sub-sea production facility with onshore processing. This method of development is claimed by Shell to be in line with best industry practice for gas fields of this type, but no other refinery in the developed world is both as close to a residential community and regional water supply. Many people, including local residents, are concerned about the health, safety and environmental impact of the onshore aspects of the scheme, and, citing Shell's record, do not believe the company's assurances. Others are concerned with alleged irregularities and precedents surrounding the project. Protests by residents have been ongoing daily at the refinery site since the summer of 2005, when five local men were jailed for contempt of court after refusing to obey a court injunction to allow Shell workers on their lands.
The Shell to Sea campaign, which is attempting to have the gas refined at sea rather than inland, was created during their imprisonment. A poll conducted throughout the county by TNS/MRBI on behalf of RTÉ's Nuacht in September 2006. 60% felt the terminal should be located offshore at sea, with less than a quarter supporting the current plans. The offshore alternative has strongest support amongst those aged under 49 years, and those residing in Castlebar/Ballinrobe/ Claremorris and Westport/Belmullet areas."