Blame for the Corrib gas controversy was firmly laid on the doorstep of Minister for the Marine Noel Dempsey and former minister Frank Fahey by an An Taisce member at thee Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) oral hearing into the issuing of an integrated pollution prevention licence (IPPC).
Leo Corcoran, a former Bord Gáis engineer, argued that the issuing of "dodgy consents" was the biggest mistake, and that the manner in which the project has been handled would never have been countenanced by Bord Gáis.
His claim that Shell was in breach of codes of practice adhered to throughout Europe was vigorously challenged by Shell's senior counsel, Esmonde Keane, who was accused by appellant Ed Moran of "using and abusing" court-room techniques in his cross-examination.
Mr Corcoran said there were significant differences between the Bellanaboy refinery and one at St Fergus, in Scotland, which was used as an evaluation basis by the EPA inspector who granted the conditional IPPC licence last January. The St Fergus refinery is located exactly on the coastline, has a short production pipe, is not adjacent to a water catchment area and is located in a specially designated area for oil development, he said.
He said the fact that a Shell expert witness, Dr Nigel Peters, a health, safety and environment consultant with the company, had refused to answer a key question was telling. Mr Corcoran had asked whether it would be acceptable
practice in Scotland to have instead located St Fergus adjacent to the nearby town of Peterhead, which, like Bellanaboy, is within a catchment area of drinking water for 10,000 people.
In his submission, Leo Corcoran said the Scottish Environment Protection Authority - "an organisation with considerable experience in licensing such facilities"- agreed the terminal should not be located within a drinking water catchment.
He quoted its head of water policy, Martin Marsden: "When consulted on the location of major industrial facilities, SEPA would normally recommend against placing such facilities at locations which could affect public drinking water."
Concerns about excessive aluminium levels in Carrowmore lake, the main drinking water supply for the Erris area, have been ongoing.
John Monaghan, a Shell to Sea campaigner, asked the hearing's chairman, Frank Clinton, if he was aware the company was regularly breaching its own limits on the site since October 2005.
Cross-examining Dr Peters, Micheál Ó Seighin revealed the company may have used a questionable statistic to gauge run-off impact from extreme rainfall within a 24-hour period.
"How could you base your figures on a catastrophic event [ the Pollathomas landslide in September 2003] from the Belmullet weather station. There was no rain in Belmullet that day; it was a spatially limited catastrophe," said Mr Ó Seighin. He added the statistic used was from Inver national school, which was not monitored properly.
He observed that while experts concerned themselves with possible failure, a community concerned itself with possible consequences.
Bríd McGarry, a landowner involved in Wednesday's High Court proceedings, claimed the vacating of the compulsory acquisition orders for the original pipeline route may have a legal bearing on the IPPC, since there is a conduit pipe which will now take a new route into the refinery.
Suggestions that Shell E&P Ireland held a series of formal consultation meetings with residents living near the Bellanaboy site regarding the decision to cold-vent the gas rather than flare it have been described as an "insult to the intelligence of the people".
Agnes McLaverty, of Shell, said there had been a series of public exhibitions in Rossport, Belmullet, Ballina and other areas where the issue of cold-venting and flaring was raised.
She was responding to the chairman of the hearing, Frank Clinton, who asked Shell representatives to provide detailed documentation of a consultation process it said it carried out with Mayo County Council and the community. She said they chose cold-venting to ease residents' concerns over the visual impact.
Cold-venting of gas, usually methane, entails its release directly into the environment without being burned.
However, appellants said that cold-venting was rarely mentioned at meetings and the majority of the people did not know what it was. One appellant, Anthony Irwin, claimed that the documentation cited by Shell as proof that it had conducted a consultation process was an "insult to the intelligence of the people". In his opinion, the main document issued for planning approval was incomplete and flawed.
The hearing resumes on Tuesday.
Áine Ryan, Anton McNulty & Lorna Siggins [Edited]
© 2007 The Irish Times