"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.”
An Bord Pleanála has approved Shell E&P Ireland’s third proposed route for the final section of the Corrib gas pipeline with 58 conditions.
Inspector Martin Nolan, who chaired last year’s resumed oral hearing on the revised plan, says that the application’s “clarity and transparency” provides “confidence that the safety of the public is fully protected, and that the public will not be put at risk”.
He said this new plan submitted by Shell and partners last year was the “most suitable, the shortest and the most obvious route for this development”.
The route involves constructing a 4.2 metre-wide tunnel in Sruwaddacon estuary for a 20 inch pipe carrying high pressure raw gas from the landfall at Glengad. The final section will run overland to the gas terminal already completed at Ballinaboy.
The offshore pipeline has already been laid.
Sruwaddacon estuary is a special area of conservation (SAC), running between the communities of Rossport, Pollathomas, Glengad and Aughoose. Among the groups which made submissions to Bord Pleanála on health and safety issues was the local national school at Pollathomas
Mr Nolan said that the development was a “major project by any measure”, but the modifications proposed would have a “remarkably light impact on the pristine environment of the area”.
A previous application submitted by Shell and Corrib gas partners was rejected by Bord Pleanála as half of it was deemed unacceptable on safety grounds due to proximity to housing.
Mr Nolan said that the board’s decision to “adopt a consequence based routing distance was a key driver” which “provided the impetus for Shell to moderate the consequence of a gas release from the pipeline”.
“Corrib will, I have no doubt, provide impetus for future expansion of the natural gas network in Ireland and I expect it will provide impetus for additional exploration off the coast,” Mr Nolan said.
“Corrib will in my view provide opportunity for Mayo in particular to develop as a new energy producing centre,” he said.
However, he said that “new momentum” was required to “engage the local community and to ensure the benefits of the scheme are developed and harnessed locally”.
He has recommended that an €8.5 million “community gain investment fund” be paid over five years by Shell and partners, which would be held in trust by Mayo County Council.
He said he believed this fund would “provide a strong enabling community gain which can be developed with leadership at every level into a long term economic and social stimulus for the area locally, but regionally as well”.
He praised Government policy on developing gas energy, but said that “further strategic planning” was required if “the depths of controversy and conflict seen in the Corrib scheme are to be avoided in future”.
“Standards, strategic development sites, strategic corridors, clear process requirements for all consents, open procedures for decision making, transparency in presentation of projects” were areas which had “led to the depth of conflict and controversy seen in the Corrib scheme”, Mr Nolan said.