"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 HIGH Court judicial review of State consents for the new Corrib gas pipeline route was the last outstanding legal action pursued by environmentalists and residents opposed to the project on health and safety grounds.
An Taisce has described yesterday’s settlement as a “victory”, while lead Corrib gas developer Shell EP Ireland has welcomed the clarity which this settlement . . . “provides for the project”.
However, residents of the area, such as Rossport farmers Willie and Mary Corduff, have expressed “deep disappointment” at the outcome.
“The State has admitted failures in its handling of the project, but it appears to be business as usual,” Pobal Chill Chomáin community group spokesman John Monaghan said.
“By the time promised new legislation is in place, the Corrib project will be built,” Mr Monaghan added. “It comes too late for us.”
The legal challenges taken by An Taisce and residents Monica Muller and Peter Sweetman related to the last section of the project, which is estimated to have run to €2.5 billion to date in tax-allowable costs.
In April 2003, An Bord Pleanála inspector Kevin Moore said that Ballinaboy was “the wrong location” for a project of this magnitude in a rural area.
However, that terminal has been built after protracted delays, and the offshore pipeline linking the wellhead 83km west of the Mayo coast has been laid into a landfall at Glengad.
The new pipeline route is the third such option – the first, through Rossport, having been withdrawn after the jailing of the Rossport Five and continued protests, and the second having been redrawn by the developers to avoid Rossport village.
Up to half of this second route was found to be unsafe due to proximity to housing by the planning board in 2009. It directed that the developers examine the third route up Sruwaddacon estuary, approved by it last January after another in a series of oral hearings.
There was never an overall review of the project in its entirety by State authorities, despite pleas by residents. However, former minister for energy Eamon Ryan transferred responsibility for the pipeline’s safety when built from his department to the Commission for Energy Regulation.
An Taisce’s main concern about this latest route was related to the fact that Sruwaddacon estuary is a protected habitat. However, local residents not party to the action still believe the new pipeline route is unsafe. Although it is further from some housing, they point out that it is within 700 metres of a national school at Pollathomas and close to dwellings at Glengad.
Central to the settlement is a pledge by the State to transpose European environmental law into national legislation. The State maintains its consents for the pipeline were valid.
“The critical objective for An Taisce is to ensure what happened in the Corrib project can never happen again,” An Taisce chairman Charles Stanley-Smith has said.
Shell said that the Corrib gas partners – Shell, Statoil and Vermilion – were strongly committed to completing this strategically important project which “has the potential to supply up to 60 per cent of Ireland’s natural gas needs”. The supply will be at full market price.