SHELL E&P Ireland says it has received State approval to drill boreholes in Sruwaddaccon Bay, a special area of conservation (SAC) in north Mayo, as part of work on the Corrib gas project.
The company has also confirmed it is "reviewing" grant aid it has earmarked for a north Mayo community affected by the 2003 Dooncarton landslide, due to local dissent over the application.
The "geotechnical ground investigations" in Sruwaddaccon Bay are due to begin "shortly", as part of the continuing research work on a modified onshore pipeline route for the Corrib gas project, according to the company.
A jack-up platform is due to be delivered next week to Ballyglass pier in north Mayo, where it will be assembled using a mobile crane. A Shell E&P Ireland spokeswoman said it had been awarded a foreshore licence for the work by Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Mary Coughlan.
The spokeswoman said this licence covered the fact the area is an SAC and comes under the EU habitats directive. An environmental management plan would be put in place.
Last year, the Minister for Environment, John Gormley, issued a public reprimand to the Corrib gas partners over unauthorised work on an SAC on land at Glengad. Mr Gormley ordered that restoration work be undertaken by consultants for Shell, RPS, who have been engaged to come up with a modified onshore pipeline route.
Mary Corduff of the Shell to Sea campaign questioned the validity of the work, as the bay is an SAC and has not yet been the subject of an independent baseline study.
"Work was carried out in the bay by RPS for Shell last year, so what is the reason for this further survey which will undoubtedly have an impact on the environment?" asked Ms Corduff.
The Corrib gas partners are to review their allocation of a €10,000 grant to the Dooncarton Landslide Committee in Pollathomas, Co Mayo. No money has as yet been paid, a Shell spokeswoman said.
Committee member Gerry Sheeran told The Irish Times his group was unaware such money had been applied for to erect safety barriers along a stretch of road overlooking Broadhaven Bay.
The application had been made by one committee member without authorisation, and the committee had decided last week to dissolve on this account, Mr Sheeran said. Any financial aid for safety barriers should be a matter for Mayo County Council, he said.
Mr Sheeran and his family were among those affected by the landslide in September 2003.
Last year, Shell's support for the Feile Iorrais arts festival was also the subject of a row.
The Irish Times