A DISPUTE over the legality of a section of Shell’s Corrib gas pipeline which has already been laid dominated a resumed Bord Pleanála oral hearing in north Mayo yesterday.
Bord Pleanála inspector Martin Nolan said he would respond today to this and other issues raised by objectors during heated exchanges at yesterday’s opening of the hearing in Belmullet.
Held under the Strategic Infrastructure Act, the hearing is considering Shell’s third proposed route for the final section of the Corrib gas pipeline, linking the offshore pipe landfall at Glengad to the gas terminal at Ballinaboy.
It is also considering compulsory acquisition orders to land applied for by Shell on behalf of Corrib gas partners Statoil and Vermilion Energy.
A previous route approval sought by the developers was rejected by the board late last year, as half of the 9km route was deemed “unacceptable” on safety grounds due to proximity to housing. The appeals board indicated it could give approval in principle if certain changes were made, and suggested an alternative, third route up Sruwaddacon estuary, which is a special area of conservation.
Almost 40 oral submissions are due to be heard on this revised plan – a number of which either support or oppose the methodology. Two priests with opposing views, Fr Michael Nallen of Kilcommon parish who lives in the affected area, and Fr Kevin Hegarty of Kilmore, will also give submissions, as will the board of Pollathomas National School, which overlooks the estuary. Fr Hegarty is a member of Shell’s third-level scholarship board.
Several of the objectors sought clarification yesterday on the legality of a section of pipeline already laid between the high water mark at Glengad and the cliff-face.
When Bord Pleanála turned down Shell’s plan late last year, it ruled that this section should have been submitted for planning approval. However, Mayo County Council maintains officially that it is exempt from planning permission.
The controversial section, which Eoin Ó Leidhín, an electronic engineer and member of Rossport Solidarity Camp, described yesterday as “probably the most dangerous part” of the high-pressure link, led to a walkout at last year’s hearing and subsequent clashes between protesters, gardaí and Shell security.
Shell E&P Ireland’s senior counsel Esmonde Keane told the hearing that this section was deemed exempt from planning permission, and was laid under consents awarded by the Government in 2002 under the Gas Act.
Fr Nallen, along with Belmullet resident and retired teacher Ed Moran and Mr Ó Leidhín, pointed out that questions relating to this section had been raised when Bord Pleanála first opened its hearing in May 2009.
“In justice, people living locally need this information,” Fr Nallen told the inspector, Mr Nolan.
“At the last oral hearing, you asked us to bear with you,” Fr Nallen continued. “We are still bearing with you . . . and people are suffering in the meantime. We need absolute clarity.” People had been “badly treated by the agents of the State”, Fr Nallen added.
In a presentation on behalf of Shell, Ciarán Butler, technical director of RPS Consulting Engineers, said a major objective in the revised environmental impact statement was “to identify a construction method for Sruwaddacon Bay which would not have a significant impact on this designated conservation site whilst at the same time balancing community and project considerations”.
He said: “The route is at least 234m from existing dwellings. There is a significantly greater separation distance between existing dwellings and the route now proposed than was in the case with the previously approved route (70m) and the pipeline route proposed in 2009 (140m),” he said.
The new route involves boring a tunnel under the estuary, with an external diameter of 4.2m for a 508mm (20 inch) pipe. The new route will avoid lands at Rossport, Mr Butler said.
CORRIB GAS CONSENT TIMELINE
1996: Corrib gas field discovery 83km off Mayo coast confirmed by Enterprise Energy Ireland.
April and May 2002: Development plan for Corrib gas field approved by minister, including construction of gas export pipeline, then exempted from planning, and signs 34 compulsory orders for access to land on the pipeline route. Shell takes over Enterprise Energy Ireland.
April 2003: An Bord Pleanála turns down application for onshore terminal at Ballinaboy, Co Mayo, due to health and safety concerns.
October 2004: New planning application for Corrib onshore terminal given final approval by planning board.
June 29th, 2005: Residents’ concerns over first proposed onshore pipeline route, exempt from planning, lead to jailing of Rossport Five for 94 days.
July 30th, 2005: Shell directed to dismantle an illegally constructed 3km section of onshore pipeline.
July 2006: Mediation fails to resolve dispute but subsequent report recommends pipeline route be modified to take it away from houses at Rossport.
November 2007: Restoration of special area of conservation ordered at Glengad following unauthorised drilling there during investigative work for revised pipeline route. Environmental Protection Agency issues licence for Ballinaboy terminal.
February 2009: Shell seeks permission for revised pipeline route avoiding houses in Rossport.
May 2009: Bord Pleanála hearing opens.
November 2009: Bord Pleanála deems half of modified route unacceptable due to proximity to housing, but gives approval in principle if alterations made.
May 31st, 2010: Third route under Sruwaddacon estuary applied for by Corrib gas partners.