Sunday 21 January 2018

Investigation alleges 'undue pressure' in pipeline project

Sam Smyth

AN investigation into the proposed pipeline and gas field terminal in Co Mayo has seriously questioned the Government's role and Enterprise Energy Ireland (EEI) actions in the ?125m project.

Although it covers a number of the issues currently being examined in the Bord Pleanala hearing, the probe into the Corrib Field project also looks at allegations of undue pressure on planners.

The findings of the investigation by Channel 4 News will be screened on the 7pm bulletin tonight and it will say that EEI's plan for the controversial pipeline and inland terminal, and the deal sanctioned by the Government are unprecedented in Europe.

The investigation reveals a memo from a planner in Mayo saying the then Marine Minister Frank Fahey wanted to be on the planning committee while the EEI project was being processed.

In the report, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny says that would have amounted to undue political interference and would have been illegal.

However, the minister never sat on the committee, so it was never an issue.

Other memos unearthed show "huge pressure" from the Department of the Marine on Mayo Co Council's planning committee.

The only environmental audit was conducted by Royal Dutch Shell - the company which now owns EEI - but it had to be done again when the first audit included non-existent villages.

Mayo Co Council approved the project - with conditions - in August last year but without access to an independent environmental audit.

Tanya Sillem, the Channel 4 News reporter who led the investigation, will claim there was pressure on locals to sign their property over to oil executives.

She discovered that security men filmed locals and another tape made by the Department of the Marine at the oral hearing ended up in Royal Dutch Shell's possession.

It is also revealed that Mr Fahey changed the law to give himself the power to issue compulsory acquisition orders, although this is now being challenged in the High Court.

The department also refused to disclose how much Royal Dutch Shell paid for the land acquired for the terminal site although it was bought from Coillte, the State-owned forestry company.

A former director of Statoil told Channel 4 News that there were funds available for corporate donations. Two of the companies involved in the Corrib Field, Marathon International Petroleum and Pierce Construction, gave money to Fianna Fail in 1998, although there is no evidence of any donations to Mr Fahey.

Channel 4 News will report that the key to the Corrib Field is that Royal Dutch Shell has chosen a very dangerous route for the 8km pipeline for the odourless natural gas that will be flowing at seven times the pressure of the national grid.

The pipeline will run through four villages, within metres of houses, and through a special area of conservation before it reaches the proposed terminal at Bellanaboy - in contravention of two EU habitats directives.

The pipeline will also contain any discharges for the terminal, possibly mercury and cadmium as well as the electrical steering mechanism for the well-head, with a clear risk of an electrical explosion and blow out. The Channel 4 News report will say there is no example of a similar risk being permitted anywhere else in Europe.

Other options available to Royal Dutch Shell, such as the old Asahi plant in Killala, would have been more expensive.

The report suggests that the Department of the Marine has acted like an implementation arm of Royal Dutch Shell, using the blanket explanation that it is 'in the national interest' rather than undertaking a critical audit of the project.

The Government, Channel 4 News say, has given away natural resources to Royal Dutch Shell with none of the gas revenues going back to Irish taxpayers - a less advantageous deal for the Irish than the same oil company negotiated with the Nigerian government.

Beyond a few hundred short-term construction jobs, Mayo gets nothing from the deal, not even the natural gas because it is not commercially viable for Bord Gais to supply Erris.

Beyond Royal Dutch Shell's project, there are no concrete proposals for investment in the area, although Rolls Royce say they will build a natural gas power station at Ballacorrick to supply the national grid when the pipeline is operating.

However, even that will only provide a limited number of jobs for locals.

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