SHELL EP Ireland has withdrawn its planning application for a modified onshore pipeline for the Corrib gas project.
An Bord Pleanála confirmed last night that the company had withdrawn its submission yesterday under the Strategic Infrastructure Act.
The company declined to comment on the move last night, but sources close to the project said that a revised application under the fast-tracking legislation would be lodged in the new year.
An Bord Pleanála had been seeking crucial additional information from the Corrib gas developers on the new pipeline route, which was modified as a result of a recommendation by Government mediator Peter Cassells.
The board had given the developers six weeks last August to provide further information relating to the development's impact on the stability of ground in the area; its environmental impact; and the impact of any extension of the life of wellfields or "extensification" of wellfields upstream.
The board also sought reports on a post-landslide site at Derrybrien wind farm in Co Galway, as referred to in the company's environmental impact statement. The proposed 9km high-pressure pipeline route runs from a landfall at Glengad under Dooncarton mountain, where there was a series of landslides in September 2003.
It is understood that the company had prepared, but had not submitted, this additional information to date. It had cited delays in obtaining access to the Rossport commonage for survey work in its communications with the appeals board.
In November 2007, a Belmullet district court ruling in a case taken by 20 landowners found that proper notification was not given by Shell consultants in relation to commonage access, nor was shareholder consent sought under the Gas Act. The company has since acquired a share in the Rossport commonage.
Sources close to the company said that a combination of factors, including access to Rossport, had influenced the decision to withdraw the current application. Other factors included a delay in laying the offshore pipeline until next year, and a recent direction that disposal of peat unearthed in any pipeline-laying must be incorporated in any planning application.
The sources said that this allowed for time to submit a fresh application, along with the same environmental impact statement. There would be "no overall delay" to the project as a result.
Work on the gas refinery at Bellanaboy is expected to be completed next year.
Sources cited also a need to secure some "flexibility" from An Bord Pleanála in relation to the pipeline, similar to that allowed to An Bord Gáis and to the Shannon liquified natural gas project.
It is understood that there will be no fundamental change to the modified route, but there will be some "adjustments", described as "minor", in the new application.
The original pipeline route was never submitted for planning approval, while the gas refinery was. The State's consent for the high-pressure pipeline route - the first of its type on the island - involved compulsory access to private land, which was approved by former marine minister Frank Fahey before the 2002 general election.
Community protests over health and safety led to the jailing of five men, known as the Rossport Five, in June 2005 for 94 days.
A new safety review, which recommended reducing pressure, and a report by Mr Cassells recommending route modification, were commissioned by former energy minister Noel Dempsey.
Efforts by Mr Dempsey's successor, Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan, to achieve a solution to the controversy hit a serious obstacle earlier this month when community groups criticised the narrow terms of reference for a new forum. The groups declined to participate on this basis.