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Changing the Corrib Gas Project - the only way forward

SIR - The controversy surrounding the recent visit by Shell non-executive directors to Ireland is a sharp reminder of how unresolved the Corrib gas dispute remains. While the release of the ‘Rossport Five’ in early October, 2005, may have appeared to end another phase in the six-year controversy, the issues that caused the five men to protest against Shell are as unresolved as ever.
Despite all the events of last summer, Shell continue to insist on pursuing the development concept of processing the Corrib gas at a processing plant 9 kms inland. As we know, the consequence of this highly unusual proposal is that a production pipeline must be routed though a populated area and in unstable, Atlantic bog terrain. In response, local people are determined to resist the placing of this high-pressure production pipeline 70 metres from their homes. Residents instead propose that the gas be processed offshore. The opposition of local people, and their demonstrated determination to resist even to the point of imprisonment, means that Shell’s proposal will simply not happen. Indeed, events since October have consolidated local concerns. First, the site at Bellanaboy that Shell is excavating to build its proposed processing plant is giving rise to serious cause for worry on environmental grounds. To build the proposed plant, Shell intend to remove 500,000 tonnes of bog and dump it 11 kms elsewhere. This extraordinary proposal has at all times been regarded by local people as impossible to achieve without serious pollution and health risks. For example, the Leenamore and Bellanaboy residents told the An Bord Pleanala oral hearing as far back as December 2002: We have expressed our views on the subject of the peat, and we have shared our experience and knowledge of the bog with this hearing. We have listened to all the Applicant has had to say. Our knowledge comes from years of working with the turf and personal experience. The Applicant’s knowledge comes from digging holes and taking measurements. We say this peat proposal cannot be safely carried out. It is something that has never been done before. It is an EXPERIMENT. But it is not to be carried out in a laboratory - it is to be carried out in close proximity to our homes and our water supply and our roads. Their concerns arise because the excavation of a bog on such a scale and within a very tight time schedule will irrevocably and unpredictably alter the hydrogeology of the entire area. This may lead to sediment run-offs, flooding and new drainage patterns which may de-stabilise the surrounding topography. For this reason, local protests at the Shell sites have continued without interruption. Indeed, on Christmas Day 150 people turned up to protest against the company. Second, the Accufacts Report commissioned by the Centre for Public Enquiry reached damning conclusions on Shell’s proposed pipeline. It asserted that Shell’s proposals were characteristic of the ‘space shuttle syndrome’ - launch at all costs irrespective of the evidence of risk. Accufacts recommended that if the pipeline was ever to be built it needed to be at least 200 metres from the nearest homes and 400 metres from unsheltered people. Numerous additional questions and flaws were identified in the report.
Finally, the government-appointed UK pipeline consultancy Advantica also published a draft report before Christmas. Despite its very limited terms of reference (for example, it could not examine alternative development concepts, or alternative routes) it too found serious deficiencies with Shell’s proposals. It recommended that, in order to be safe, the pipeline’s pressure needed to be reduced to between a half and a third of what Shell had originally proposed.
The cumulative affect of these developments is to provide a public and clear vindication of the stance of the Rossport Five and their supporters. Without their protest, and the protests mounted in support of them by local people and others throughout the State, none of these safety issues would have come to public attention.
The time has surely come to end the fantasy of the Corrib gas project. The only way forward is to reconfigure the project with safety - as determined and perceived by local inhabitants - as the key design criterion. Maintaining the illusion that the project is perfect and without flaw is the arrogance that has caused far too much heartache and distress. Corrib gas was meant to be flowing in 2003. As we stand now in early 2006 there is no immediate prospect of it ever coming to market. It is up to Shell to take a reality check, accept local concerns and alter their proposal. Everyone else now recognises that change is required. There is no other way forward.
Yours sincerely Dr. Mark Garavan, Castlebar, Co. Mayo.

Posted Date: 
7 March 2007 - 5:31pm