Saturday 30 May 2009

Expert warns on risks of explosion

A FORMER Army bomb disposal officer has warned of “horrific” consequences for civilians in and around Rossport if an onshore gas pipeline serving the Corrib gas project should rupture and explode.

A hospital with a specialised burns unit and a fire station would have to be located in the area, due to the potential for fatalities and serious injury in a very isolated area, Comdt Patrick Boyle (ret) told the An Bord Pleanála hearing into the Corrib gas modified onshore pipeline yesterday.

Comdt Boyle, who has served on bomb disposal in Ireland and with the UN in Lebanon, was representing the community group Pobal Chill Chomáin on the sixth day of the oral hearing in Belmullet, Co Mayo, under the Strategic Infrastructure Act.

Comdt Boyle said that many recent pipeline accidents had occurred with pressure loads of 70 bar – half that proposed for the Corrib gas onshore pipeline.

He cited as an example the July 2004 explosion in Ghislenghien, Belgium, in which 24 people died and more than 120 people were injured. Most of those killed were police and firefighters responding to reports of a gas leak, operated by Fkuxys, a pipeline operator owned by Royal Dutch Shell.

Explosions caused by released fuel mixed with air had a multiple factor, Comdt Boyle said. The Ghislenghien explosion was equivalent to 41 tonnes of TNT and similar to the impact of smaller tactical nuclear weapons.

He said that a separation distance of at least 500 metres from dwellings would be more appropriate than that currently proposed. The new pipeline route has a 140-metre separation distance from dwellings – twice that proposed for the original pipeline route.

Former Bord Gáis engineering manager Leo Corcoran, also representing Pobal Chill Chomáin, said that the project was a case study in “escalation of commitment” by developers who continue to build “beyond the point of failure”.

A “litany of errors, omissions, flawed design and bad decisions” had “not prompted” the promoters, including the Government, to “reconsider the fundamental approach”, he said.

Nor had it prompted the promoters to “engage meaningfully with the local community to reach agreement”, Mr Corcoran said.

Mr Corcoran, who was a member of the Gas Technical Standards Committee, identified a number of difficulties with the current application. No code of practice for a high pressure gas pipeline was mandated in the ministerial consents for the onshore and offshore pipelines issued in 2002, he noted.

The site selected for the gas refinery in Bellanaboy was also “in breach” of the code, and located within a drinking water catchment of 10,000 people, he said.

Mr Corcoran also said that the site for the land valve installation at the Glengad landfall, linking the offshore and onshore pipelines, was an “insecure location” and “socially unsustainable”. Without the support of the local community, it would be “difficult to enforce the invasive measures required to secure this facility”.

Erris resident Niall King said in his submission that Shell consultants RPS, who designed the new pipeline route, had been based in Belmullet, some 30km from the Rossport community, and had not engaged in real consultation with the community.

Mr King shared safety concerns expressed by Micheál Ó Seighin, one of the Rossport Five, in his submission earlier this week. Mr Ó Seighin had noted that there was “no place in the planning system for including the health impacts on the receiving population”.

The hearing continues today in Belmullet.

Irish Times

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