THE Shell Corrib gas pipeline project in Co Mayo has suffered a major setback after a court quashed a revised licence issued for the refinery terminal at Ballinaboy.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had issued the revised licence last June but the agency conceded in the Commercial Court yesterday that local resident Martin Harrington was entitled to the quashing order due to defects in relation to how an Environmental Impact Assessment ((EIA) concerning the terminal development was carried out.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly granted the order to Mr Harrington, Doohoma, Ballina, Co Mayo, after the EPA said it was not opposing his legal challenge to the revised Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control
(IPPC) licence issued by the agency to Shell E& P Ireland. The EPA will also pay Mr Harrington's legal costs.
The licence had permitted the operation of a gas refinery and combustion installations, with a rated thermal output of 50MW or greater, at Ballinaboy Bridge gas terminal, Bellagelly South.
Shell was a notice party to the proceedings and had applied last August to have them fast-tracked in the Commercial Court on grounds the case had "significant potential commercial consequences" for the €2.7bn Corrib gas project.
The company said construction of the terminal has been largely completed and it was intended to begin commissioning the terminal gas infrastructure, under the revised IPPC licence, on April 1st 2014.
It was intended that would be carried out by importing natural gas through the terminal's connection with the national grid through which gas from the Corrib field will later be transported to the market, the company said.
The company envisaged work to be carried out related to the project to the end of this year would cost some €170m under existing contracts and ongoing construction and maintenance costs for the terminal, overall project team and offices.
The company said it had also recruited a significant number of local staff to operate the terminal and, in all the circumstances, was anxious the case be decided as soon as possible.
In his judicial review challenge, Mr Harrington argued that in issuing the revised licence, the EPA failed to carry out an EIA in accordance with the requirements of various EU Directives, including the Habitats Directive.
He also argued an amendment made to an earlier IPPC licence did not confirm with provisions of the EPA Act insofar as it sought to carry out an EIA subsequent to the making of the decision.
The EPA erred in law in seeking to retrospectively carry out an EIA at a meeting of the EPA Board held on June 25, 2013, when the decision in respect of the IPPC licence had already been made, he said.
Such an assessment must be carried out before a decision is made on a licence and the EPA also failed to appreciate the distinction between Environmental Impact Statements and Environmental Impact Assessments, he added.
Yesterday, Mr Justice Kelly was told by Nuala Butler SC, for the EPA, it had decided to concede the action and was agreeing to the court making an order quashing the revised licence. The EPA would pay Mr Harrington's costs but was not obliged to pay the costs of various notice parties, including Shell E & P Ireland, who opposed Mr Harrington's case and Peter Sweetman, who supported Mr Harrington, counsel added.
After hearing submissions on behalf of Mr Sweetman seeking his costs, the judge ruled there was no basis on which the EPA could be directed to pay those costs in circumstances including it had conceded the claim at the earliest possible opportunity.