THE MINISTER for the Environment has approved an application by Shell EP Ireland to undertake investigative work in north Mayo’s Sruwaddacon estuary for its proposed new pipeline route.
John Gormley has signed off on a foreshore licence application for the geotechnical work, which would involve drilling up to 80 boreholes in a candidate special area of conservation (SAC).
His department received almost 200 objections to the application, which was applied for by the Corrib gas developers earlier this year.
An Bord Pleanála is still deliberating on the revised pipeline route up Sruwaddacon estuary, following its finding that up to half of a proposed second onshore routing was “unacceptable” on safety grounds.
Shell says it needs to carry out the work as part of site investigations, although it drilled 14 boreholes and took samples in the same estuary over a 10-week period in 2008. Shell consultants RPS had ruled against running the high-pressure pipeline through Sruwaddacon on environmental and technical grounds two years ago.
Both Shell to Sea and community group Pobal Chill Chomáin called on Mr Gormley to reject the application due to fears that it could degrade the estuary’s SAC status.
However, Shell told the department that the boreholes would be up to 30mm to minimise disturbance and said it was “not anticipated” that the work would have an adverse impact on the SAC.
Meanwhile, Minister of State for Natural Resources Conor Lenihan says he is taking “new measures” to monitor oil and gas activity in Irish waters in the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
He said this week that his department had instituted a “special oversight of well operations” which would involve more frequent on-board audits and inspections for “routine or critical events”.
The initiative comes as Shell EP Ireland and its Corrib gas partners are due to begin drilling a satellite well on the Corrib North block which could yield additional gas reserves. The Transocean-owned Sedco 711 semi-submersible rig arrived on location late last week off the Mayo coast.
Transocean also owned the Deepwater Horizon rig which exploded and sank on April 20th in the Gulf of Mexico with the loss of 11 lives and with consequent serious pollution.
Mr Lenihan said the “special oversight” would involve “verification to the department’s satisfaction prior to drilling”.