The long-delayed €3.4bn Corrib gas project has taken a significant step towards producing gas after tests confirmed all five Corrib wells are now ready to flow.
The tests came after Shell E&P Ireland flared gas for a 24-hour period (pictured) at the Ocean Guardian drilling rig about 80km off the Mayo coast.
The successful gas flare confirms the production capacity of the so-called P6 well and "means that all five Corrib wells are ready to flow", according to a spokesman for Shell Ireland.
Gas was originally expected to flow from the field in 2003. The project is now likely to be 12 years behind the original schedule and the outlay will be more than four times the initial estimate of €800m.
The successful operation coincides with the firm lodging documents with the Companies Office confirming that Shell Ireland's parent company provided a fresh €100m cash injection to help complete the project.
"The three Corrib Gas Partners expect to invest circa €300m in the project during 2014. The €100m increase in share capital by Shell E&P Ireland Limited is to support SEPIL's ongoing activities in Ireland."
Just under 1,000 people are currently employed in the project.
"In the coming weeks a number of other vessels will be working at the Corrib field, 80km offshore Co. Mayo, installing flowlines and other sub-sea infrastructure in preparation for first gas," the spokesman said. "On land, a major project milestone was achieved with breakthrough in the Corrib tunnel which occurred on May 19. With the completion of tunnel construction, the coming months will see the 4.9km-long section of onshore gas pipeline being installed inside the tunnel along with the control umbilical and other services. Once tested, the tunnel will be backfilled with grout."
At the Bellanaboy gas processing terminal, preparations are being made for a pre-start up testing programme using "back feed" gas from the national grid. This commissioning programme is due to commence in the autumn.
In a written Dail response, Energy Minister Alex White has confirmed "the bulk of the gas produced from the Corrib field will be supplied to the national grid via the 149km pipeline constructed by Bord Gáis Networks from the gas terminal in Bellanaboy in Mayo to Ballymoneen outside of Galway.
The Corrib gas field is owned by Shell (45pc), Vermillion (18.5pc) and Statoil (36.5pc). The partners had hoped that gas would be brought ashore in 2011 - but this was before An Bord Pleanala ruled that half of a proposed overground pipeline would be unsafe, necessitating the construction of the tunnel. The project is now counting the cost of that decision with the projected spend on the entire scheme in 2013 and 2014 totalling €680m thanks in part to the construction of the tunnel.