The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to hold an oral hearing into the licensing of the Corrib gas refinery in north Mayo.
Objectors to the preliminary licensing approval have been informed of the EPA's decision, but a date has yet to be set for the hearing.
The EPA issued a preliminary integrated pollution prevention and control (IPCC) approval last January. Among the 12 appellants to the hearing are Corrib's lead developer, Shell E&P Ireland, An Taisce, local priest Fr Michael Nallen, the Erris Inshore Fishermen's Association, and members of the Shell to Sea campaign.
The IPCC licence for the refinery is one of a number of consents handled by various State agencies in relation to the €900 million project. It addresses emissions and the environmental management of the facility.
The EPA's preliminary approval states that it is "satisfied that emissions from the refinery, when operated in accordance with the conditions of the proposed licence, will not adversely affect human health or the environment and will meet all relevant national and EU standards". To date, the EPA has not overturned such an interim decision.
Shell had objected to the wording in eight of some 85 conditions attached. An Taisce's objection recommends that the EPA board refuse a final licence for seven reasons, including the failure of the Bellanaboy location to comply with international codes of practice because of its proximity to Carrowmore Lake, which supplies 10,000 people.
Shell E&P Ireland welcomed the EPA's oral hearing decision and said it would provide an opportunity for people to "air their genuine concerns at an independent and transparent forum".
Mayo Independent TD Dr Jerry Cowley and Seanad candidate for the NUI constituency Dr Mark Garavan said yesterday that while they welcomed the EPA's move, they believed a far more comprehensive "root-and-branch" review was required.
They reiterated their call to set up an independent commission to determine the optimum development model for the project.
"We are concerned that Shell's insistence on proceeding with construction of the refinery prior to an agreement regarding a production pipeline and prior to EPA approval will deepen the dispute," they said.
In a separate development, Shell confirmed yesterday that a "technical issue" had arisen in relation to variations in diameter of concrete piles installed at the terminal site to support roadways. However, all piles installed to date had passed integrity tests and it said it had no "health and safety issue" relating to the situation.
© 2007 The Irish Times