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As new twists in the Corrib gas saga emerge, some protesters appear in court while others meet two government ministers in Leinster House
AS LEADING Corrib gas protesters today (Tuesday) appeal lengthy jail sentences, Energy Minister Eamon Ryan has been called on to address three key demands made at a meeting in Government Buildings last week, by a delegation from north Mayo.
Retired teacher, Maura Harrington and fisherman, Pat O’Donnell, locally known as ‘The Chief’, are among the list of appellants set to appear this morning before Judge Rory McCabe in Castlebar Circuit Criminal Court. Ms Harrington is set to appeal five convictions including the alleged assault of an IRMS (Integrated Risk Management Services) security guard, trespass, and a two-year driving ban relating to a dangerous driving charge, involving an IRMS minibus. Mr O’Donnell will appeal a two-month sentence for allegedly using threatening and insulting behaviour towards a garda sergeant.
Meanwhile, in yet another twist in the protracted Corrib saga, Shell, at its request, was last Tuesday given over a three-month extension (May 31) to submit a revised application to An Bord Pleanála for the controversial Corrib route.
The following day a delegation of six representatives from Shell to Sea met Ministers Ryan and Éamon Ó Cuiv at Leinster House. They discussed a number of primary concerns about the ongoing planning process. Arising from that meeting, and a subsequent public meeting held in Inver Community Hall last weekend, they sent a letter to Minister Ryan yesterday (Monday 8) reiterating their demands.
They include calls for the removal of installations and piping above the High Water Mark at Glengad, the landfall site; the resignation of a Department of Energy official who they have accused of ‘gross interference in the planning process’ by writing to An Bord Pleanála (ABP) in recent weeks; and, finally, that the board makes a final decision about the project rather than interim rulings.
A spokesman for Minister Ryan told The Mayo News he had explained to the delegation that his official’s letter was ‘a restatement in writing of the testimony at the ABP hearing and there was no intention to interfere in the independent planning process’.
On November 2 last the planning board determined that almost half the proposed route was ‘unacceptable’ on safety grounds and directed that Shell examine an alternative partial route up Sruwaddacon Bay, thus removing the pipeline from proximate housing.
Responding, at the time, Shell defended its adherence to all international safety standards, design and best practise.
In a letter, to the planning board from the Department of Energy, on 20 January last, aspects of its decision are criticised, particularly the ‘risk assessment methodology espoused in the Board’s letter’ to Shell, which the department’s Chief Technical Officer, Bob Hanna, argues is based ‘solely on consequence’, with no attention given to mitigating measures proposed.
Mr Hanna writes: “This is different from international best practise in this area. Risk, or hazard assessment is considered to be a function of both consequence of occurrence of a specified event and likelihood or probability of that event occurring.”
He suggests that adoption of the planning board’s approach may establish ‘a precedent’ that could have ‘the effect of prohibiting all significant infrastructure developments’.
“To illustrate by way of example, a ‘consequence only’ approach means that one would have to design and build an aircraft which would protect its passengers from harm when it crashes,” the letter stated.
Last Summer, at the board’s oral hearing, Shell consultants conceded under questioning that safe shelter had not been identified for nearby residents if there was a rupture.
They told Nigel Wright, for An Bord Pleanála, that houses within 230 metres of the pipeline could ‘burn spontaneously’ from heat radiation if there was an explosion and gas in the pipe was at full pressure.
The Mayo News understands that because this application will be the subject of yet another oral hearing, Mr Hanna’s letter was acceptable to the appeals board.
Planning board’s independence
AN Bord Pleanála’s statutory status as an independent arbiter is paramount, according to Ed Moran, a member of the delegation who met the ministers.
“A planning appeals process, in my view, has the same standing as an ongoing case before the High Court. Bob Hanna has grossly interfered in the process. His attempt to interfere directly in the Bord Pleanála Appeals process is scandalous. Particularly as he does so in ‘my capacity as Energy Installations Inspector for Ireland’,” Mr Moran said.
He also referred to the call for the dismantling of 92 metres of pipeline constructed last summer at the landfall site. The construction of this section of the pipeline has also been questioned by An Bord Pleanála in its November 2 letter to Shell.
However, Minister Ryan confirmed he told the delegation the consent for this was approved in 2002 by Minister Frank Fahey, under Section 40 of the Gas Act.
CRUCIALLY, in other recent correspondence with the planning board – written on behalf of Shell by route consultants, RPS – minutiae relating to the transport of wet and untreated gas, Ireland’s lack of a formal framework for major hazard pipelines, as well as hazard distances, have been addressed.
However, there is no mention of the proposed alternative of Sruwaddacon Bay or its possible technical and environmental challenges in a letter sent to the board on January 15 last by RPS.
In the board’s reply to RPS on January 29, it confirms that its view ‘concerning the route of the pipeline’ has not changed since its original letter in November.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Ms Monica Muller, a Rossport resident, questioned Shell’s intention of bringing the pipe up the bay.
“In the board’s decision of November 2 last, they directed Shell to examine the possibility of redirecting part of the high-pressure pipeline route up Sruwadaccon Bay, thus bringing it away from houses in Glengad, Aughoose and Rossport. But Shell has not referred to this in any of the correspondence since to the board,” Ms Muller said.
Responding last night, Rossport Five’s Micheál Ó Seighin referred to the new bill, the Petroleum Safety (Exploration and Extraction) Bill 2010, introduced last month by Minister Eamon Ryan.
“The details of this bill will facilitate Shell ploughing up through Rossport with the pipeline. They never had any intention of going up the bay, it’s too sensitive politically for a Green Minister for the Environment, [John Gormley] to stomach,” Mr Ó Seighin said.
A Shell spokesman declined to comment on the issues, noting that this process was ongoing. The company now has until May 31 next to submit a revised application to An Bord Pleanála.