Shell E&P Ireland is seeking planning amendments to its Corrib gas refinery, which is under construction in north Mayo.
An extensive application to Mayo County Council relates to "minor modifications", a spokesman for the Corrib gas partners said yesterday. These include fire safety additions, such as escape stairs at the waste water treatment plant.
A statement by the partners - Shell E&P Ireland, Statoil and Marathon - said they relate to design changes for the administration, maintenance and laboratory buildings complex, the waste water treatment building, control building, east-west access road and methanol still.
"Modifications such as these are in keeping with best design concepts to continuously seek to find the best refinement of the overall plan prior to completion of construction." Details are available through Mayo County Council and Shell's public information office in Belmullet.
Employment on constructing the refinery at Bellanaboy is approaching its peak, currently standing at about 600 people, a spokesman said. The refinery was awarded its integrated pollution prevention control licence by the Environmental Protection Agency last year. However, An Bord Pleanála has given no definitive ruling yet on whether a proposed modified onshore pipeline route is eligible to be submitted for approval under the Strategic Infrastructure Act. RPS consultants, for Shell E&P Ireland, are still working on a final modified route.
The original onshore pipeline route was not subject to planning approval, and consents were signed off by former marine minister Frank Fahey, resulting in local opposition which led to the jailing of the "Rossport Five" for 94 days in 2005.
PJ Rudden of RPS told The Irish Times yesterday that public consultation on modified routes had been completed, but environment assessments were still being carried out. Last September, RPS published a shortlist of three "corridors" for a modified route. All three routes, including the most direct corridor down Sruwaddaccon Bay, are within designated environmentally sensitive areas under the EU habitats directive.
However, RPS said it believed that approval could still be secured if it could be proven "controlled construction techniques" could "minimise environmental impact".
At that stage, the consultants predicted that a final route would be selected by the end of the year, for submission to An Bord Pleanála if the board accepted it under the new fast-tracking legislation. The three "preferred" corridors follow part of the original high-pressure pipeline route, but aim to "increase the distance between the pipeline and the nearest dwelling". Government mediator Peter Cassells had recommended modifying the original route "in the vicinity of Rossport" in his report last year.
He had noted that route ran just 70 metres from the nearest normally occupied house.
Representatives of the Erris community opposed to the onshore pipeline participated in a protest in Dublin yesterday that aimed to highlight what the Shell to Sea campaign has described as the "sweetheart" deal between the Government, Shell, Statoil and Marathon.
"The deal left Corrib gas entirely in the control of private multinationals and Ireland owning nothing. The estimated value of the gas is at least €50 billion," Shell to Sea said.
RPS said work is due to start shortly on restoring a special area of conservation at the Glengad pipeline landfall, following unauthorised work there during the route studies.