Dr Mark Garavan, a lecturer at GMIT in Castlebar, the spokesperson for the Shell to Sea group wrote this article for the Western People.
The time has come for the people of Mayo to ask themselves what is going on with the Corrib Gas project, writes Dr Mark Garavan.
FOR OVER six years the real issues regarding the Corrib gas project have been consistently obscured or deliberately ignored. The most recent obstacle being raised to prevent the issues being finally addressed is fatigue. We are told that the Corrib conflict has become boring, is repetitive and that it is time for everyone to move on. It is as if the unfortunate participants in this sorry saga are there to provide a spectacle of entertainment and that if there are no new plot twists they should pack up and go home.
But what precisely does this mean? Those who must live beside Shell and Statoil’s proposed project have no choice about where they live. Contrary to the carefully contrived public relations spin the issues that have given rise to the Corrib gas conflict remain. Despite the last dreadful six years, the project proposed in 2000 remains substantially the same project being proposed in 2007. There is still a processing plant at Bellanaboy and still a production pipeline routed close to people’s homes in the village of Rossport. The only significant changes that have occurred are that the original pipeline route might be tweaked; that excavated peat is being dumped out-side Bangor rather than Bellanaboy; and that gas will be released raw into the atmosphere at Bellanaboy rather than being flared.
The core problem with the Corrib gas project remains the decision to locate the processing plant nine kilo-meters inland. Why is this being opposed? Let me outline a number of brief reasons.
First, the plant is being constructed on a bog. To build it 500,000 tonnes of wet Atlantic peat must be removed. This is an extraordinarily risky procedure, one never before attempted on this scale. The risk of peat run-off, aluminium build-up, increase in peat instability in a wide area and general water contamination is high. This is a serious matter given that Carrowmore Lake, the source of most of the drinking water for Erris, is just two miles away from the site.
Second, gas processing involves a number of hazardous activities. In the event of a fire or explosion, the area is poorly served by necessary support infrastructure such as medical facilities, fire fighting capacity and accessible roads. Yet the plant is being proposed for a populated area with a number of houses some hundreds of yards from it. In addition, the inland location of the plant necessitates the routing of a production pipeline also through populated areas which brings in its wake additional risks.
Third, the processing gives rise to a number of chemical by-products. Discharges will occur to both air and water. There will be a high-pressure flare stack some 40 metres high, two low pressure chimneys and the developer will ‘cold vent’ methane to the air. All of this will degrade the environmental quality of the area and give rise to ongoing local anxiety about health.
Fourth, the insertion of this huge plant into an entirely rural and nonindustrialised area will change the character of the area and transform it from a location of intimacy and familiarity to one that would be alien to many of its inhabitants. The physical building itself will cover twenty-two acres of ground and will operate 24/7 with attendant noise and lighting.
Finally, it is clear that Shell’s determination to secure the Bellanaboy site is driven by their expectation of developing further gas wells in the future. This was acknowledged by them at the An Bord Pleanála oral hearing. The 400 acres available at Bellanaboy permits them to build additional processing capacity in the future.
These issues are not invented or contrived. They are genuine concerns whether you agree with the detail or not. What therefore should those who hold these concerns do? Stay quiet? Remain indifferent? Avert their eyes? Instead, from the outset those who have campaigned under the umbrella of Shell to Sea have approached this conflict in a positive manner. We have proposed that the gas can be processed offshore and that this would effectively resolve the difficulties. What is so radical and unreasonable as that? Not only have we from the outset defined clearly what the problem is we have equally detailed a viable solution.
Surely the time has come for the people of Mayo to ask themselves what is really going on with this project. Who is really benefiting? What are the much-lauded benefits that justify this project being forced through?
Is it security of supply? No, because Bord Gas makes it quite clear that most Irish gas comes from the North Sea and that there is no medium term threat to the continuity of those supplies. Is it lower cost? No, the price of gas is determined by global market forces and Corrib will be purchased at full market price. Are there significant financial benefits to the State? Again no. No royalties are being extracted, no equity share taken, no windfall tax levied.
All exploration and development costs can be written off against tax at 100% from year one. Thus very little financial benefit will arise. Might there be jobs from the project? Minimal, other than in the short-term construction of the plant. Once the plant is operational only fifty jobs will be needed. The companies are not obliged to employ Irish work-ers on their exploration rigs nor do they have to source their supplies from Ireland. Is it gas for Mayo? No, gas is already going to be provided to a number of towns prior to the possible development of the Corrib well. The development of Corrib and whether Mayo should receive gas or not are two separate matters.
The real beneficiaries are Norway (because of Statoil’s involvement), Scotland (where the bulk of the industry’s supplies are sourced) and the shareholders of Shell and Marathon. Any other presentation of the reality is self-serving. It is clear that for the New Year we need to pause, take stock and agree a proper development that meets with local consent and delivers real national and local benefits. Why should the people of Mayo not deserve and receive the best?