"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
THE company behind controversial plans to carry out gas fracking in the northwest has a multi-million euro 'war chest' for community donations.
Tamboran, the Australian-Canadian consortium hoping to erect a network of gas 'fracking' drill sites in Co Leitrim, is putting in place a €2m-a-year community investment fund, the Irish Independent has learned.
The revelation has led to accusations that the firm is using the money as part of a 'divide-and-conquer' strategy to dampen opposition to the gas project.
Tamboran has already given €20,000 to a community hotel project in Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim, and plans to make further payments to other groups.
The fracking process of extracting gas from rock deep underground is highly controversial and has been suspended or banned in some countries, including France and parts of the US and Britain. Critics have blamed it for causing earthquakes and water pollution.
The move by Tamboran is the latest in a series of contributions legitimately made by companies establishing facilities -- and they have split communities and generated controversy.
However, Tamboran has yet to apply for planning permission for its project. In the meantime, it has signalled it will make more payments to community groups.
A spokesman said the fund was to support community initiatives, and pointed out that the Manorhamilton Enterprise Forum had approached it for aid.
"As we hope to be located in the county, we want to play a part in the locality," the spokesman said.
The company declined to respond to allegations it was using the cash to operate a 'divide-and-conquer' strategy.
Leitrim-based scientist Dr Aedin McLoughlin, of the Good Energies Alliance Ireland group, which is opposed to fracking, claimed yesterday that offering money to community groups was a strategy that had been used by oil firms in the US.
"It is pretty obvious that their strategy is to stop a local outcry against their proposals," she said.
She added that dividing opinion had the effect of weakening any campaign against fracking.
Leah Doherty, of the No Fracking Ireland campaign group, said: "Tamboran is throwing around money and may feel that public opinion is its only obstacle."
A spokesman for the Manorhamilton Enterprise Forum said: "We as an entity were extremely careful to accept the monies without any strings or promises. We all have the same concerns about fracking.
"These concerns were raised by us at a presentation by Tamboran to our board. We are hard-working, decent, honest people struggling to make things meet in the biggest recession we have ever known."
Unlike pre-planning donations, community contributions are frequently set down in rulings by An Bord Pleanala, and administered by the relevant local authorities in conjunction with community groups.
For example, Indaver is paying €250,000 for community facilities around the village of Carranstown, Co Meath, where its incinerator is located.
Shell has also agreed to pay €8.5m for community projects over a five-year period in the Belmullet area as a condition of its planning permission to build the Corrib gas pipeline.