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Corrib gas to be delayed by three years

Marian Harrison - Western People

THE Corrib gas project has been delayed by at least another three years with gas now not expected to be brought ashore before 2013 at the earliest.

The Western People has learned that Shell’s tunnel through Sruwaddacon Bay will take up to two years to construct. The tunnel is a key component in the revised plans submitted by the exploration company to An Bord Pleanála in response to concerns about the safety of its preferred pipeline route from the landfall at Glengad to the terminal at Bellanaboy.

Before it was forced to seek a new route though Sruwaddacon Bay, Shell had hoped to have gas flowing by 2011.

However, in the schedule of works in the revised environmental impact statement lodged with An Bord Pleanála, Shell has given an optimistic project finish date of 2012 or 2013. The tunnel proposal has yet to receive the go-ahead from An Bord Pleanála and will be the subject of a five-week oral hearing in Belmullet next month.

Work on the gas terminal is 95 per cent complete and Shell expects to have contractors off site by the end of this year, meaning the massive facility will lie vacant for at least another two years.

It’s almost 15 years since the Corrib gas field was discovered in the Altantic Ocean and ten years since the plans for the gas terminal at Bellanaboy were first lodged with Mayo Co Council.

At one stage, the promoters of the project were predicting that gas would flow by 2003 – a deadline that now looks like it will be missed by a decade.

But news of the lengthy delay hasn’t brought any sense of relief to Shell’s nemesis in Erris, long-time protester Maura Harrington, who says she cannot bear to think about the proposed tunnelling work in Sruwaddacon Bay.

“They say the tunnel will be slightly longer than the Dublin Port Tunnel and the scale of work involved in that was something else. The scale of the proposed destruction they are trying to get away with is horrendous; it’s vandalism of the highest order,” Ms Harrington told the Western People.

The protests have lost their intensity in recent months but Ms Harrington has vowed they will continue until gas is developed “properly and safely”. She’s aware that laying the onshore pipe in the water will make it more difficult for protesters to disrupt works but says “while the wrongdoing continues so will the resistance”.

Opponents of the new route will have a chance to air their views at next month’s oral hearing into the project. In an unusual move, the deadline for submissions had not passed last week when An Bord Pleanála announced that it would open its inquiry on August 24 next.

Ms Harrington says it shows the “indecent haste” which has characterised the Corrib gas project from the outset – although the long delays contradict that statement. But the oral hearing is likely to last several weeks as planning officers and protesters pore over a 5,000-page environmental impact statement from Shell as well as hundreds of submissions.

If the decision is in Shell’s favour, it’s understood the company hopes to start tunneling work next March. Shell has shortlisted tenders for the work but a contractor will not be appointed until An Bord Pleanála releases a decision on the route.

Meanwhile, barges drilling boreholes in the bay came under attack last week as protesters attempted to disrupt work.

The Garda Water Unit arrested three people between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning last. None of those arrested are from the locality. A file on the matter is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Fishermen back Shell

Two fisherman’s representative groups in Erris have agreed to facilitate Shell’s offshore works programme for the Corrib project for the next two years.

Working practices to minimise disturbance and maximise safety, ongoing inspection of water discharge facilities at the Bellanaboy terminal, the continuation of a €1.3m marine fund and financial compensation to the fishermen have all been agreed with members of the Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association and the Erris Lobster Conservation and Restocking Association.

“Our members are happy that this agreement acknowledges our members’ fishing rights in Broadhaven Bay area,” said chairman of the Erris fishermen’s group, Éamonn Ó Duibhir. “It allows all parties to work together during the final phases of the Corrib offshore works programme over the next two years.”

Chairman of lobster conservation group, Willam Walker, said the agreement was a “reflection of the strengthening relationship with Shell”.