THE ENVIRONMENTAL Protection Agency (EPA) has recommended that a revised emissions licence be awarded to Shell EP Ireland for the Corrib gas terminal.
This will result in most waste chemicals being discharged more than 80km off the Mayo coastline.
Objectors have been given until August 31st to respond to the decision which, if finally approved, will vindicate the stance taken by inshore Erris fishermen on protection of the Broadhaven Bay marine environment.
Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association chairman Eddie Diver said yesterday his members welcomed the agency’s ruling in relation to the marine dimension.
“It’s what we wanted, but it took us a long time to get to this stage,” Mr Diver said.
“We will still be vigilant, as mistakes do happen, and we have asked the EPA to ensure constant monitoring.”
A monitoring regime is one of a number of conditions attached to the agency’s decision, which approves discharge of some 80 per cent of “produced water” from the gas terminal, containing chemicals including methanol, through an “umbilical” pipe to the wellhead 83km offshore.
The remaining 20 per cent will be removed from site by truck for licensed disposal.
The umbilical is a subsea link which has yet to be laid and which will control the wellfield infrastructure from onshore.
The company had originally planned to discharge treated water from an outfall pipe 2km north of Erris Head into a “diffuser” 12.7km offshore.
As part of its integrated pollution prevention control (IPPC)licence review, the company has sought approval to increase emissions of carbon dioxide, and “negligible” increases in emissions of nitrogen and carbon monoxide.
The preliminary decision comes after years of lobbying on the issue by the inshore fishermen’s group, the main body representing many of the 150 fishermen working off Erris.
The association made it clear to Shell that it would not facilitate the laying of the gas project’s offshore pipe until the company signed up to a legally binding agreement.
Under the legal agreement of August 2008, the company promised to seek a change to its original IPPC licence from the EPA, which had been awarded in late 2007.
The company pointed out at the time that the agency and “international experts” had “confirmed that the treated produced water will cause no harm to the marine environment”.
Fishermen were subsequently compensated for facilitated offshore pipelaying.
However, the company didn’t apply for a revised IPPC licence until six months after the offshore pipe was in place.
Several EIFA members, including father and son Pat and Jonathan O’Donnell, refused to accept compensation due to their continued health and safety concerns.
Shell E&P Ireland said yesterday it had “no comment to make at this stage” on the EPA determination as “the process is ongoing”.
In a separate development, it is understood that a senior engineer with the Department of the Environment met Shell management this week to discuss a complaint lodged by community group Pobal Chill Chomáin about aspects of the company’s current survey work in Sruwaddacon estuary, a special area of conservation.
The group expressed concerns regarding the impact of excess boat traffic on marine life such as dolphins, and the environmental impact of regular movement of two jack-up rigs.
The group also claimed that there was excessive security.
Shell said yesterday that it was “operating in accordance with the conditions of the foreshore licence, and it “participated fully in the review undertaken by the departmental engineer who visited the works” this week.
DISPUTED PIPELINE LEGALITY ISSUE TO BE DEBATED
A 10-METRE section of the Corrib gas onshore pipeline which has already been laid without Bord Pleanála approval is due to be debated at the appeals board hearing in Belmullet, Co Mayo, today.
Bord Pleanála inspector Martin Nolan told the resumed oral hearing yesterday that he would allow an early opportunity to explore the issues.
Objectors had sought clarification from Mr Nolan on the legality of the 10m section when the resumed hearing opened in Belmullet on Tuesday.
The hearing is considering a revised plan for the onshore pipeline linking Glengad to the Ballinaboy terminal, which would involve tunnelling under Sruwaddacon estuary, a special area of conservation. It is also hearing an application by Shell EP Ireland for compulsory acquisition orders to lands.
Shell has said the section on and above the shoreline at Glengad had consents, and the company put on record yesterday a High Court ruling of July 21st, 2010, issued by Mr Justice Peter Charleton.
Mr Justice Charleton turned down an application by Mayo fisherman Jonathan O’Donnell, who challenged the legality of the pipeline laid up to the proposed landfall valve installation for the project at Glengad. The judge said in his ruling he had two “declarations” before him from Mayo County Council and Bord Pleanála stating that the landfall valve installation, fencing, associated works and the “relevant pipeline” were “lawful” under Section 5 of the 2000 Planning and Development Act.
Retired schoolteacher and Belmullet resident Ed Moran urged the inspector to seek his own legal advice on the issue, as not to do so would undermine the hearing.
Mayo council is to give submissions at the hearing, which continues today and is expected to run into mid-September.