Saturday 26 April 2008

North Mayo residents propose deal on location of gas refinery

NORTH MAYO residents opposed to the Corrib gas pipeline have dropped their demand for a gas refinery to be built at sea and are backing a compromise solution to the long-running controversy.

A statement due to be issued tomorrow by seven community leaders in Erris says that all of the problems surrounding the Bellanaboy refinery site and its controversial onshore high-pressure pipeline would be "solved in one move", if the developers - Shell, Statoil and Marathon - agreed to relocate the refinery.

The seven - Mary and Willie Corduff, Philip and Vincent McGrath, PJ Moran, Pat O'Donnell and Caitlín Uí Seighin - have all been key supporters of the Mayo Shell to Sea campaign.

That campaign was formed after Mr Corduff, Philip and Vincent McGrath, Micheál Ó Seighin and Brendan Philbin were jailed for 94 days over opposition to the pipeline in 2005.

Earlier this month, the seven travelled to Norway with Labour Party president Michael D Higgins, Green Party councillor Niall Ó Brolcháin and Sinn Féin councillor Noel Campbell in a bid to break the current impasse.

The group met StatoilHydro, a partner in the Corrib gas project, and received support from the federation of oil and gas workers' unions, SAFE, representing 8,700 members.

StatoilHydro commented afterwards that the chances of moving the refinery were "close to zero".

However, in an implicit criticism of the role of Irish statutory authorities, Helge Hatlestad, StatoilHydro's vice-president (exploration and production) for western Europe, said he believed it was "very unfortunate" that the concerns voiced by the north Mayo community had not been listened to during the planning stages of the project in 2000/2001.

Speaking earlier this month, Mr Hatlestad said: "We've learned in Norway that there is a need for these sort of discussions, for consultation and communication, before a project is sanctioned . . . It becomes commercially unviable to do something different once a project has started."

The current refinery project at Bellanaboy, which involves a 9km linking onshore pipeline, is about 30 per cent complete. However, the developers are preparing to seek planning and other statutory approvals for a modified pipeline route, which was announced last week.

The community leaders say they support the compromise alternative location proposed by three priests in Kilcommon parish, Fr Michael Nallen, Fr Michael Gilroy and Fr Seán Noone, in letters last year to Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan.

This location at Glinsk, near Belderrig, was identified by Shell consultants, RPS, last summer as a potential landfall during initial work on modifying onshore pipeline routes.

However, the consultants were excluded from involvement in any aspect of the refinery, then under construction, and this option was dropped from subsequent shortlists.

Glinsk has no housing within several miles of the exposed area of bogland, but Shell consultants had noted in their assessment for the pipeline survey that the exposed landfall had steep cliffs of greater than 50 metres.

The statement, due to be issued tomorrow, calls for serious consideration of this compromise as the "first real attempt at finding a solution to the ongoing dispute that understands the many concerns surrounding the current location".

"Our stance has never been anti-gas, but our priority has always been health, safety and the environment, and this remains the case," the statement says.

"This proposal has come about after a series of events, culminating in our recent visit to Norway.

"This conflict has always been capable of being resolved by agreement and respect, and we call on all genuinely interested parties to respond positively to this move," it says.

"Failure to do so would inevitably see the situation revert to compulsory land acquisition, court orders, court cases, conflict, and more suffering and trauma for our families, neighbours and community.

"The current Corrib project has done untold damage to this community, the reputations of Shell, Statoil and successive governments, and the integrity of numerous State agencies.

"We sincerely hope that this chance for agreement is not lost, as it represents a clearly long-overdue opportunity for resolution, agreement and healing," the statement says.

The Irish Times

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