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Shell planning large tunnel off the coast of Mayo

By: 
Nicola Cooke - Sunday Business Post

Shell will apply to An Bord Pleanála next month for permission to build a large tunnel under the seabed off the Mayo coast as part of the latest plan to get gas from the Corrib field.

The move, designed to avoid running the pipeline across land owned by local farmers, could delay the gas project by at least two more years and cost up to €100 million. Informed sources said it could be Shell’s ‘‘last throw of the dice’’ on the project.

The firm is proposing to build a five-kilometre-long pipeline with a diameter of 3.5 metres, five metres below the seabed at Scruwaddacon Bay. An option for an open trench pipeline through the bay, which is a special conservation area, will also be submitted to An Bord Pleanála. Shell has advertised for tenders for specialist contractors to bore the tunnel.

However, the tunnel plan is likely to require another oral hearing, because it is a major change to the route of the Corrib pipeline.

The company is submitting the plan because it believes that a tunnel cutting through the bay is An Bord Pleanala’s preferred option.

In a letter to Shell, the board gave the firm directions to ‘‘modify the pipeline route, so the route at this location . . . would be within Sruwaddacon Bay’’.

It said the development should include a revised environment impact statement. When Shell submits the new applications, a period of public consultation is likely to take place again. This could cause significant delays to the project.

Construction of the tunnel would take at least one year, according to sources, meaning that it would be 2012 before gas could come on stream.