THE SHELL Corrib gas terminal in north Mayo is due to test gas from the national grid shortly as construction work winds down at the Ballinaboy site.
“Backfeed gas” from the Bord Gáis Éireann network will be fed through the Ballinaboy system, which has been subject to testing over the past two months to ensure the pipework is free of leaks.
Lead developer Shell, which still has to receive approval for the controversial onshore pipeline from landfall to Ballinaboy, intends to submit its new application to An Bord Pleanála by the end of this month.
It has confirmed that it hopes to run the pipeline through Sruwaddacon estuary, as the appeals board has directed.
Shell declined to give a predicted date for full production pending the outcome of the planning application. However, it is unlikely full production will start before next year.
Addressing a site tour for the press, Shell’s project site manager Brendan Butler said testing of gas fed from the pipeline to the west would take place over three months to make sure that all equipment was working correctly.
Mr Butler, who has over 24 years’ experience with oil and gas production, worked with Shell on its Sakhalin project in Russia before moving to the Corrib development in 2007.
The Ballinaboy plant will be filled with nitrogen to protect against corrosion, while the developers await the outcome of An Bord Pleanála’s decision, according to project construction manager Paul Hughes of CMC.
Late last year, the board found that up to half a modified pipeline route was unacceptable on safety grounds due to proximity to housing at Rossport, Glengad and Aughoose.
The company anticipates that up to 85 permanent staff will be employed at Ballinaboy, with 130 long-term positions, once construction at the terminal is complete in July.
At peak, the company says 1,500 people were employed on the project. As of mid-May, some 23 per cent of 773 people employed directly or through various contractors were from Erris, while 22 per cent were from Mayo and 50 per cent from elsewhere.
The workforce will be reduced to about 200 by the end of this year, according to the company.
Among staff currently being let go are up to half of some 120 personnel employed by Longford firm Gilmore Security, while other contractors are also scaling down.
A group of 15 local third-level students spent last summer on site, and interviews are taking place for similar paid placements this summer.
The methanol still, recycling methanol injected as a type of “anti-freeze” into the gas, and the flare stack are among the tallest structures on the 16-hectare terminal area, constructed on a 40-hectare bog formerly owned by Coillte.
“Flaring”, where gas is released into the atmosphere and ignited to release pressure, will rarely take place, the company says.
However, a “small amount of gas” will be flared during start-up until the gas composition meets the required specification, it has said.
The company said it places great emphasis on safety on the construction site.
A recent safety milestone was reached for the third time on site when one million man hours were worked without a single lost time injury.
Adrian Deane, from Gortbrack in north Mayo, is one of 25 site operators trained for permanent posting, and another 18 are due to be recruited. Originally hired as an electrician, he opted to take a course in operations at Middlesborough in Britain and then worked at the Shell plant in Bacton before returning to Mayo.
His brother Brendan was one of the first locals to be hired by Dutch company Hertel for the Corrib contract three years ago. Along with colleagues Christopher Reilly from Ballinaboy and John McAndrew from Carrowmore, Brendan Deane has worked on scaffolding, insulation and painting.
The Mayo Hertel staff and their project manager Andrew Canning, from Blackpool, said they felt lucky to be working on the Corrib project during the construction downturn.
During protests at Ballinaboy in 2006 and 2007, Mr Canning said he experienced very little hostility while living in Carne near Belmullet.