A report on the impact of unauthorised drilling in a special area of conservation by consultants for Shell E&P Ireland is to be delivered today to Minister for the Environment John Gormley.
A senior official with the National Parks and Wildlife Service was sent to inspect the area at Glengad on the Glenamoy bog complex late last week, when it emerged that the consultants had undertaken work without written consent of the Minister and without notifying the parks and wildlife service in advance. A spokesman for the Minister told The Irish Times that Mr Gormley was taking the issue of a legislative breach "very seriously".
A report on ecological impacts will be given to Mr Gormley's department today and a full appraisal will be with the Minister by the end of the week, the spokesman said.
The report by the official is expected to identify whether the unauthorised borehole drilling - undertaken as part of work on a modified pipeline route by RPS Consultants for Shell - has had a negative ecological impact on an area protected under the EU habitats directive.
Locals who had questioned the legality of the drilling had initially been told that the area was not in a special area of conservation (SAC). The Garda was then called, but the consultants agreed to suspend work when Shell to Sea spokesman John Monaghan produced maps showing that the work was within a protected area.
In a statement issued to The Irish Times late last week, RPS admitted that written consent of the Minister had not been obtained and the parks and wildlife service was not consulted in advance of the work.
RPS has said the "oversight" was due to "miscommunication", both within its own company and Shell E&P Ireland. The consultants said that permission of relevant landowners had been obtained and they were now "in discussion" with the Department of the Environment.
Under the European Communities (Natural Habitats) Regulations 1997, the Minister for the Environment must authorise any such work in an SAC by written consent and contravention of this, "without reasonable excuse", is described as an "offence" in the legislation.
Six weeks ago, a solidarity camp on the same site at Glengad was directed by court order to be dismantled by January 1st, as Mayo County Council said it posed a threat to a "particularly fragile landscape".
RPS said that no more investigations would take place in the Glenamoy bog complex SAC without the appropriate permissions. Site investigation works were continuing in other locations in and around the short-listed corridors with landowner approval, the company said.