SHELL EP Ireland has confirmed that it asked An Bord Pleanála not to assign one of its inspectors to an appeal relating to the Corrib gas refinery.
The appeal, which is currently before the planning board, refers to permission recently granted by Mayo County Council for amendments to the refinery under construction.
An Bord Pleanála has also confirmed to The Irish Times that it received the request in writing from Shell EP Ireland's agents. It has not assigned the named inspector, Kevin Moore, to the case, but emphasises that this decision was not influenced by Shell.
In a statement, the appeals board says it has full confidence in Mr Moore and all its planning staff "to deal in an impartial and professional manner with any case assigned to them".
Mr Moore was the inspector assigned to the appeal lodged over planning permission originally granted for the Corrib gas refinery by Mayo County Council.
In his report of April 2003, Mr Moore said the location for the refinery at Bellanaboy was "the wrong site" on three grounds - from a "strategic planning perspective", from "the perspective of government policy which seeks to foster regional development" and from "the perspective of minimising environmental impact".
The appeals board overturned two of Mr Moore's three refusals, but refused permission for the refinery. A new submission which involved transferring peat from the Bellanaboy site was submitted and permission was granted by the appeals board in October 2004.
Earlier this year, Shell EP Ireland applied to Mayo County Council for permission to amend certain approved aspects of the Bellanaboy refinery. The amendments were described by the company last February as "minor modifications".
However, it has emerged that the company initially sought permission for the changes under the fast-tracking Strategic Infrastructure Act, before being referred back to the local authority.
Pre-consultation discussions were held on this with An Bord Pleanála late last year, which Mr Moore was involved in. The board advised that the submission did not meet the strategic infrastructure criteria.
Shell EP Ireland then applied under normal planning rules to Mayo County Council, which granted permission, and this has been appealed.
An Bord Pleanála says that in accordance with practice, "the inspectors who were involved with the earlier consultations, including Mr Moore, have not been assigned to report on the normal planning appeal that is currently under consideration".
An Bord Pleanála is also currently assessing a separate application by Shell - made under the Strategic Infrastructure Act - for a modified onshore pipeline route.