Consultants for Shell E&P Ireland anticipate that a final Corrib gas onshore pipeline route will not now be confirmed until next month at the earliest.
Five routes on a shortlist of three "corridors" are still being assessed by the consultants, RPS, and a deadline of January 18th has been set for responses from residents in Erris.
Sruwaddaccon Bay, a special area of conservation (Sac), is emerging as a potential final route, but RPS group director PJ Rudden would not be drawn on this when speaking yesterday to The Irish Times.
All of the shortlisted corridors have positive and negative features, Mr Rudden said. The delay in making the final selection was attributable in part to the need for adequate consultation.
However, unauthorised drilling by the Shell consultants in a Sac last October, which prompted an angry reaction from Minister for the Environment John Gormley, was also a factor, it is understood.
Mr Gormley has ordered the company to restore the Sac on the Glenamoy Bog complex, but no work has taken place as yet. The consultants are awaiting a response to a restoration proposal they submitted to the National Parks and Wildlife Service last month.
Mr Rudden said he was "pleasantly surprised" by the reaction to the shortlist of routes, and he and his colleagues had endeavoured to take into account social and environmental issues.
Mr Gormley will have a key role to play in any approval of the final pipeline route, given that it is expected to cross areas protected under the EU habitats directive.
Also, responsibility for foreshore, apart from aquaculture, is being transferred to Mr Gormley's department as part of the final break-up of the Department of Marine.
However, the pipeline route, from wellhead 70km offshore to refinery at Bellanaboy, will be submitted by the Corrib gas developers to An Bord Pleanála, if the appeals board accepts it as a qualifying project under the new Strategic Infrastructure Act.
The board will have no remit in relation to marine aspects, which will be determined by Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan under Section 40 of the Gas Acts.
Mr Ryan has not responded to date to a letter from three priests in the Erris area who have pleaded for a new location for the refinery.
Fr Michael Nallen, Fr Michael Gilroy and Fr Seán Noone have proposed that Glinsk on the north Erris coastline be examined. "The project as planned for Bellanaboy does not have consent from the community," they said.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved an integrated pollution prevention control licence for Bellanaboy, and RPS has no remit in relation to this aspect of the project.
The consultants were employed by Shell E&P Ireland to assist in implementing one of the key recommendations made by government mediator Peter Cassells in his 2006 report.
The issue of community consent in relation to Corrib and the Government response is the subject of two books published this month.
NUI Galway lecturer Liam Leonard says the conflict over the project has "re-invigorated the sense of community in Mayo and across rural Ireland, an identity that can be traced back to the agrarian agitation of the Land League", in his book, The Environmental Movement in Ireland, published by Springer.
The justice, peace and human rights organisation, Afri, has published an analysis by journalist Michael McCaughan, launched in Dublin last night, entitled The Price of Our Souls: Gas, Shell and Ireland.
The Irish Times