MINISTER FOR Energy Eamon Ryan is expected to issue a decision in “the coming weeks” on Shell E&P Ireland’s application to construct the last section of the Corrib gas pipeline. But it could still be two years or more before the gas starts coming ashore.
Mr Ryan’s decision will follow An Bord Pleanála’s landmark ruling yesterday that approved the developer’s revised plans for the onshore link.
Minister for the Environment John Gormley is also still considering a foreshore licence for the third pipeline route, which will run under Sruwaddacon estuary to the gas terminal at Ballinaboy.
If the company secures these approvals, it is expected to take between 18 and 24 months to build. A separate licence review of emissions from the Ballinaboy gas terminal is still with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The 689-page report by An Bord Pleanála inspector Martin Nolan comes with 58 conditions relating to aspects of the construction and management of the 8.3km pipeline from the landfall at Glengad to the gas terminal at Ballinaboy. Some 4.3km of the route will involve tunnelling through Sruwaddacon estuary, a special area of conservation, with a 24-hour work schedule permitted.
The conditions include extra security at the landfall valve installation at Glengad, which was the subject of much controversy at the oral hearing.
A contentious section of the pipeline laid before the oral hearing at Glengad has also been permitted by the board.
The inspector says the onshore upstream pipeline will be “confined to the transportation of natural gas from the Corrib gas field”, and any proposal to connect additional gas fields to the pipeline will be the subject of “appropriate planning application and approval”.
He has recommended that an €8.5 million “community gain investment fund” be paid over five years by Shell and partners, which would be held in trust by Mayo County Council.
Mr Nolan says the application’s “clarity and transparency” provides “confidence that the safety of the public is fully protected, and that the public will not be put at risk”.
He said this new plan submitted by Shell and partners last year was the “most suitable, the shortest and the most obvious route for this development”. The original pipeline route was exempted in 2002 by former minister for the marine Frank Fahey, and a modified route was submitted for planning in 2009.
This third option was suggested by An Bord Pleanála when it deemed up to half of the modified route unacceptable on safety grounds in November 2009, due to proximity to housing.
The inspector stipulates a number of preconditions, including preparation of an emergency response plan by the developer after pipeline construction. He also recommends a project monitoring committee be established by Mayo County Council, comprising two representatives for the developer, two for the local authority and four representatives from the Kilcommon parish.
Inland Fisheries Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Department of Energy, the EPA and Bord na Móna will also be invited to provide one representative each.
Mayo County Council will monitor the conditions set by An Bord Pleanála, and the developer must maintain a “complaints register” at its Belmullet office.
Traffic management conditions for the construction phase include engagement of a traffic warden at the developer’s expense to ensure the safety of schoolchildren. Mr Nolan said the development was a “major project by any measure”, but the modifications would have a “remarkably light impact on the pristine environment of the area”.
Mr Nolan said the board’s decision to “adopt a consequence-based routing distance” provided “the impetus for Shell to moderate the consequence of a gas release from the pipeline”.
However, he said “new momentum” was required to “engage the local community and to ensure the benefits of the scheme are developed and harnessed locally”. “Standards, strategic development sites, strategic corridors, clear process requirements for all consents, open procedures for decision-making, transparency in presentation of projects” were areas that had “led to the depth of conflict and controversy seen in the Corrib scheme”, Mr Nolan said.