Friday 20 April 2018

15 years on and still there's no gas ashore

Treacy Hogan Environment Correspondent

A REMOTE windswept corner of Co Mayo seems an unlikely setting for a 15-year battle to bring natural gas ashore.

But the Corrib Gas project has been mired in controversy almost from the day that the gas was discovered 83km off the coast in 1996.

Angry locals farmers worried about explosions beside their homes as the gas was brought ashore. A battling schoolteacher and so-called 'eco-warriors' all lined up against global oil and energy giant Shell.

Others took a different view and argued for the gas to be brought ashore as quickly as possible on the basis that it would generate jobs and revenue, as well as guaranteeing an estimated 60pc of Ireland's gas needs for up to 20 years.

The David and Goliath contest over the Corrib gas project seems endless. Planning battles and routine roadside scuffles with gardai set the tone for 15 years of wrangling -- with no sign of any gas.

In Mayo, objections by some locals -- despite strong support by others in the county -- and a high-profile campaign of opposition by the Shell to Sea group delayed the project by at least five years.

Five local men, dubbed 'the Rossport Five', were jailed in 2005 for contempt of court when they refused to obey a court injunction forbidding them to interfere with work being undertaken by Shell. The men spent 94 days in prison.

They were among the locals who objected to the routing of the gas pipeline on the grounds that it was too close to their homes and that an explosion would have catastrophic consequences.

That view was upheld by An Bord Pleanala, which ruled that the original route was unacceptable on safety grounds.

As a result, a new route further away from the homes was designed and approved by the planning authority. While this seems to have at least eased some local fears, many others remain worried about the impact of any explosion in the pipeline.

Planners have now given the green light to Shell E&P to construct a 5km pipeline underneath Sruwaddacon Bay that will link the field with a gas-processing plant at Ballinaboy and allow production to begin.

The final approval was given a full 15 years after the field was discovered.

As matters stand, gas should be flowing into homes and businesses within three years.

Five wells have been drilled and are ready for production, an offshore pipeline has been laid and is connected to the field, and the gas-processing plant at Ballinaboy is finished.

But the campaign against the pipeline has been as relentless as it has been controversial and most observers believe the contest is far from over.

The cost of the policing operations related to the Corrib gas project between August 2005 and October last year alone was almost €14m.

At peak production, Corrib is expected to supply as much as 60pc of Ireland's natural gas needs, reducing the need for costly imported oil and gas and playing an important role in Ireland's energy security.

Up to €3bn will be spent developing the field. It is generally regarded as one of the most significant engineering projects ever undertaken in Ireland.

Irish Independent

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