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An Board Pleanála gives Shell pipeline approval despite local resistance

Dermot - WSM

It is no great surprise that An Board Pleanála has granted permission for the final phase of the experimental Shell pipeline in North Mayo. The remaining 5 kilometers of pipe will be laid up the centre of Sruwaddacon Estuary, through Broadhaven bay, a place of great natural beauty and also an area which has been listed as a Special Area of Conservation [1] and a Special Protected Area for Birds,[2] along with being an E.U. protected Natural Heritage Area.[3] These sort of protections are now obviously meaningless when it comes up against multinationals like Shell.

An Board Pleanála heard submissions from a huge variety of sources from August 24th to October the 1st. They were made aware of the overriding concerns of the local community in relation to safety concerns. It took until May 2010 for Maximum Allowable Operating Pressures in the pipelines to be revealed by Shell.

This area of Mayo also has a history of landslides which are a major concern when you have a pipeline of raw unrefined gas going up the bay behind your house. The community has long since resisted this pipeline, up to and including being jailed in 2005 and afterwards for their resistance.

An Táisce in their final submission to the hearing stated
“Given the overwhelming weight of argument and evidence supporting a refusal to do otherwise would compromise the credibility of the board..” [4]

Indeed it is a shame that An Board Pleanála did not pay more attention to that line. Instead we get Shell’s line and the propaganda of ‘progress’ thrown back to people in point 6 of the summary of findings.

“Corrib will, I have no doubt, provide impetus for future expansion of the Natural Gas Network in Ireland
and I expect it will provide impetus for additional exploration off the coast. Corrib will in my view provide opportunity for Mayo in particular to develop as a new energy producing centre.”

So the finding of the report is not surprising, but it is once again disappointing. What it reveals is what we have long since suspected. When pressure is applied from above, the decisions get made in favor of the corporations above the heads of the people.

This has been played out before. In 2002 An Board Pleanála turned down permission to build the Gas Processing terminal that now stands in Ballinaboy. Then the following year senior executives from Shell E&P were granted a meeting with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Minister for the Communications, Marine & Natural Resources, Dermot Ahern, and Minister for the Environment Martin Cullen. Within a week the same consortium at Shell had met the Chairman of An Board Pleanála, John O’Connor and members of the planning appeals board. By 2004 the decision was reversed with the small proviso that they dumped the tones of peat removed in the process to a different location.

All this is pointed out in the excellent publication, the Centre for Public Enquiry’s publication entitled ‘The Great Corrib Gas Controversy’.[6] This was published in November 2005 and it turned out to be the second and final report ever published by them. The Centre for Public Enquiry which was funded by Atlantic Philanthropies was pulled after pressure from the Irish Government. Its next report was due to be on Treasury Holdings who had already begun legal action*.

A leaked document from a Shell Group Managing Directors meeting held on the 23rd of July 2003 stated 
‘It was noted that development of the Corrib field may be delayed until 2004 as planning consent had been refused for the terminal. The Committee queried whether the Group had sufficiently well placed contacts with the Irish government and regulators. Paul Skinner undertook to explore this issue further in consultation with the Country Chairman in Ireland’[7]

Two years later in 2005 we had the Rossport 5 being imprisoned because they were injuncted by Shell for not complying with the states compulsory purchase orders.

Shell is a skilled chess player in these games. They know that power resides with those in the political sphere – so they have meetings with the right ones. They don’t bother with dealing with laws and in this project they’ve frequently built first and sought permission afterwards.

The State has backed Shell’s side of the project for a long time, and particularly since those meetings that happened back in 2004. Since then over €14 million [8] has been spent on the policing operation down there. The Irish Navy has also been deployed to secure ships deployed by Shell. So it was inevitable that An Board Pleanála would be made see the light – as evidenced by the pipe dream of Mayo becoming the ‘energy production centre.’ Shell knows how the system works and they’ve managed to get to the right people to ensure that this decision was made in their favor.

No Plan B - So this was always going to be A1 with the Board

What has been surprising is that Shell never really had a ‘plan b’.  This was revealed in a wiki-leaks story about the Corrib Gas project. Julian Cetti, Shell Ireland’s Head of commercial and business strategy, was revealed in a Wiki-leak story had ’"hinted" the energy company had no "Plan B" if it failed to win approval for a controversial pipeline to bring gas in from the Corrib gas refinery near Rossport in County Mayo.[9]

Cetti went on to be reported as saying there
‘could be 20 or more Corribs out there – or very little – depending on how the exploratory drilling progresses this year'[10]

This ties in completely with what the Shell to Sea campaign has been saying consistently that there is over €420 billion out there.[11] Shell did not build this refinery for Corrib alone.

With all this at stake the decision by An Board Pleanála was too important for this giant corporation for it to be allowed to go the wrong way.

What this story illustrates beautifully is how the game it played. There are official bodies that are set up to protect the interests of people. In some case they do their job – like An Táisce. In some instances they do their job correctly the first time, like An Board Pleanála, back in 2002, but when the stakes are high enough, the ‘well placed contacts’ come into play and the protection disappears. They system reveals itself for the corruptible monster it is.

WORDS: Dermot

4 An Taisce Closing submission 30th September to the oral hearing
5 Point 6 in the Summary of the main findings pertaining to 182c Application to An Board Pleanála.
8 Policing operation costs taken from ‘Ryan’s madness and the folly in the Corrib Row’ Fintan O’Toole 16th Feb. 2010 – Irish Times
9 Wiki-leaks story The Guardian 22nd December 2010 –
10 Wiki-leaks story The Guardian 22nd December 2010 –
11 This figure is based on the estimate, issued by the Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources (DCENR) in 2006, that the amount of gas and oil in the Rockall and Porcupine basins, off Ireland’s west coast, is 10 BBOE (billion barrels of oil equivalent). Based on the average price of a barrel of oil for 2009 of $60, this works out at $600 billion, or €420 billion. This does not take account of further oil and gas reserves off Ireland’s south coast or inland. The total volume of oil and gas which rightfully belongs to Ireland could be significantly higher. Also, as the global price of oil rises in the coming years, the value of these Irish natural resources will rise further.

* How valuable would’ve a report on Treasury Holdings been back in 2005!