"This is one of the most important stories of it's kind in Europe."
UP TO THREE new terminals and five new pipelines, for oil as well as gas, are understood to be part of plans for the controversial site at Bellanaboy Bridge in north Mayo.
In a recent publication entitled Atlantic Ireland: An Exciting Petroleum Province, the Petroleum Affairs Division (PAD) - a subsection of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources - assesses the economic viability of the four Atlantic oil and gas basins: the Rockall Basin, the North and South Porcupine, and the Slyne/Erris/Donegal Basins.
While a spokesman for the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources told the Western People that, “in the event of any potential future finds, it is up to the companies who make the find to come up with a plan of development for it” and that any such plan must receive the necessary regulatory approval from the various state agencies involved, the report does recommend that whatever oil and gas is discovered be exported back to either the proposed Corrib gas terminal or a new terminal adjacent to it.
It states, for example, that “no infrastructure exists within the Rockall Basin, but when the Corrib gas field is developed this will include a new onshore gas terminal at Bellanaboy Bridge”.
In both the Rockall and North Porcupine Basins, there are said to be oil fields.
The proposed Corrib gas refinery at Bellanaboy will take up approximately 32 acres. The area of the site in total is 407 acres.
It has long been speculated, though never explicitly stated, that the extra 375 acres will become part of a refining zone, similar to St Fergus, located 60km north of Aberdeen on the north-east coast of Scotland, where there are four terminals which receive and process gas from over 20 North Sea fields.
A spokesperson for Shell to Sea Eve Campbell said that the report by the Petroleum Affairs Division is “very worry-ing” as it “clearly demonstrates that the Department [of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources] intend to use Bellanaboy for more refineries.”
As yet, there has been no assessment of the environmental, visual and socioeconomic impact of a multi-refinery complex dealing with oil as well as gas on the area around Bellanaboy, much of it designated by the EU as priority habitat or Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
“Instead of having an overall evaluation of the suitability of the site for such a development, they intend to build one refinery then another, and another using the first refinery as the basis for the building of subsequent facilities,” said Ms Campbell, adding that this is “plan-ning by stealth”.
A spokesperson for Shell said that the company has no plans to build any more than the proposed refinery and that the extra 375 acres were originally - as stated in the initial planning application, refused by An Bord Pleanala’s inspector - to be used for peat deposition. The site at Srah-more, 11 kms from Bellanaboy, is currently being used for that purpose.
Current licences for exploration of oil and gas beneath the Irish Atlantic are divided between international --for example, Shell - and Irish-controlled concerns - for example Providence Resources, owned by Tony O’Reilly.
The last round of exploration licences, for the Slyne, Erris and Donegal basins, were issued in August 2006 by the then Minister for C o m m u n i c a t i o n s , Marine and Natural Resources, Noel Dempsey. The successful applicants were: Statoil Exploration (Ireland) Ltd with Shell E&P Ireland as a partner; Serica Energy (UK) Ltd;_Island Oil & Gas plc with Lundin Exploration BV and Endeavour Energy (UK) Ltd as partners; and Island Oil & Gas plc with Lundin Exploration BV as partner.
Shell holds a large share of the licences, including four blocks in the Rockall Basin, and five blocks in the Slyne/Erris basins, where the Corrib field is located.