Monday 20 November 2017

Shell protest tripled cost of gas project to €3bn

John Drennan

John Drennan

The Minister for Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte has revealed that the true cost of the decade-long Shell to Sea protest is now €2bn, including hundreds of millions directly borne by the taxpayer.

So far the main source of controversy in the Shell to Sea conflict has centred on a current garda policing bill of €14.5m. However, speaking to the Seanad last week, Mr Rabbitte said the real costs of the campaign, which was recently described as "protest tourism" by Alan Shatter, was closer to €2bn.

And he noted that one project alone, occasioned by the protest, has cost the taxpayer €100m in lost tax revenue.

The minister, who is deeply anxious to rebuild the oil and gas industry which has been in decline to such an extent that not a single well was drilled last year, also slammed the "immense reputational damage" that the "soft-headed romanticism" of the Sinn Fein and Green Party-led Rossport campaign had done to the industry.

Mr Rabbitte admitted that initially when it came to the protests "the companies involved in the Corrib field took their eye off the ball and there were genuine local community interests which should have been addressed".

But, he said, "since that time, the State has bent over backwards in every way it can" to ensure "in so far as it is known to man to make safe the bringing ashore of gas."

The minister noted that "uniquely on the planet, we are engaged in constructing a tunnel under Sruwaddacon Bay at a cost of €400m" which would cost the Exchequer €100m in lost taxation.

This, however, was "only a small element of the difference between the €1bn anticipated cost of bringing the gas ashore and the €3bn costs incurred as a result of delays".

Mr Rabbitte also asked of this "victory for the people" whether it really was "a patriotic achievement that the project has cost €2bn more than anticipated [and] immense reputational damage has been done to Ireland abroad."

During the debate, Mr Rabbitte also slammed Sinn Fein proposals that the Government should take a stake in drilling for oil and impose an 80 per cent tax rate on any finds.

He noted that Sinn Fein had ignored "the fact that there is no drilling going on" and said the Sinn Fein position appeared to be informed by nothing more than the desire to have the "comfort blanket" of being able to say "By God, those large oil companies will pay through the nose if they come to Ireland".

Mr Rabbitte added that "Ireland does not have sufficient investment capacity to drill empty wells at a cost of €80m per attempt," and noted he had "a genuine difficulty in understanding how it would be a source of comfort to some people if we had a tax rate of 80 per cent, took a 51 per cent stake and did not find any oil or gas".

Sunday Independent

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