The politicisation of the Corrib gas project was not the fault of Shell E&P Ireland, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) oral hearing into the issuing if an integrated pollution prevention licence (IPPC) was told yesterday.
On the 10th day of the hearing in Belmullet, Co Mayo, Micheál Ó Seighin, one of the Rossport Five, said Shell and the other partners (Statoil and Marathon) had been "led astray in this project".
Mr Ó Seighin was addressing the fact that due to project splitting, the removal of 350,000 tonnes of peat from the proposed refinery site was progressing in the absence of an IPPC licence and a specific route.
He cited, as an example of the politicisation of the project, a statement made by Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Eamon Ó Cuív at a public meeting in Belmullet after An Bord Pleanála turned down the project in April 2003. "The Minister announced the development was going ahead in Bellanaboy, because it was too late for it to go anywhere else," he said.
"Objectively, and from a distance, it would seem as if Shell is just ignoring the EPA. Shell is frustrated by the society we have created," said Mr Ó Seighin, adding that "unfortunately we have developed an establishment of chancers".
Anthony Irwin, an objector who operates a marine-based tour company, said there should have been a baseline study implemented before the initiation of the project, which was already in breach of an EU habitats directive. He said former minister for the marine Frank Fahey had issued consents and licences without investigating the area's flora and fauna resources.
The unavailability of local agencies was highlighted in a submission by Kate Kirkpatrick, who said she had made 30 unanswered phone calls to Mayo County Council's project engineer about a diesel spill at the refinery site on March 25th last.
The stream from the refinery runs into Carrowmore lake, the water supply for 10,000 people.
She produced a sample of the polluted water at the hearing, observing that it still smelt of diesel. She also said John Cronin of Shell's Bangor office admitted the leak had occurred on March 24th.
However, Shell senior counsel said the company did not know the origin of the leak.
Leo Corcoran of An Taisce said the new route would require new consents under the Gas Act 2002 or the Strategic Infrastructure Act and it was the prerogative of the incoming minister, as gas regulator, to issue these.
The next minister for the marine could refuse to issue a consent for the new route of the Corrib gas pipeline since the proposed refinery at Bellanaboy is situated in a drinking-water catchment and thus breaches the code of practice, the oral hearing was told yesterday.
In his closing statement, Mr Corcoran said the consent, issued in 2002 by then minister for the marine and natural resources Frank Fahey without compliance with the Pipeline Code of Practice, may now be nullified in light of a recent High Court decision to vacate compulsory acquisition orders for the original route.
"There is no guarantee that the new application will succeed because a new consent will require a statement that the infrastructure will comply with a code of practice," Mr Corcoran, a former Bord Gáis engineer, said.
The option was there from the outset for Shell E&P Ireland to locate the terminal "outside a sensitive water catchment".
He cited the EU and the Government's "precautionary principle", which stipulates that where scientific evidence of environmental risk exists, evasive action should be taken in absence of conclusive proof.
Earlier, "planning by stealth" was how objector Eve Campbell, from the Rossport Solidarity Camp, described a 2006 report, Cost Effective Field
Development Study for Atlantic Ireland Basins, by the Department of Marine and Natural Resources' petroleum affairs division.
"Several of the hypothetical fields use the Corrib infrastructure or adjacent facilities at Bellanaboy," Ms Campbell said, referring to the fact that the proposed refinery site is 407 acres, while the refinery will encompass 32 acres.
The report details the potential expansion of the refinery to facilitate a number of fields in the Slyne-Erris-Donegal basin gas/ condensate fields. Ms Campbell said this seemed "to indicate that the Bellanaboy area has been designated a refining zone, similar to the St Fergus site [ in Scotland], albeit informally or without public pronouncement".
The hearing reconvenes next Wednesday.
Áine Ryan [Edited]
© The Irish Times 2007