"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.”
AS cinema audiences attending the Toronto Film Festival over the weekend were treated to five showings of The Pipe, a documentary by Risteard O Domhnaill, about the controversial Corrib gas project, the latest oral hearing rumbled on in Belmullet. And while much of last week’s submissions and questioning were about technical matters, the dramatic differences between the applicant, Shell, and objectors remain patently clear.
A TUNNEL carrying the high-pressure Corrib gas, across a bay in north Mayo, will be the longest of its kind in Europe, it has emerged.
A Shell E&P Ireland (SEPIL) consultant confirmed at last Tuesday’s Bord Pleanála hearing into the controversial project that at 4.9km long, the tunnel under Sruwaddacon Bay is almost a kilometre longer than a gas pipeline tunnel in Holland. (That makes it longer than the Dublin Port tunnel.)
During the session a team of Shell consultants was questioned by Nigel Wright , a consultant and former British Gas Engineer, retained by the planning appeals board. The Shell team, included Gerry Costello, SEPIL, and experts from Det Norsche Veritas (DNV), JP Kenny, Exodus, Agec, De La Motte, and Shell International.
Mr Wright addressed a broad range of safety and stability matters relating to the revised application for the pipeline, which involves tunneling under the bay, which is a Special Area of Conservation.
“A 4km tunnel in the Netherlands is about the longest I am aware of in Europe,” a member of the expert team said.
Nigel Wright observed there was very little information in the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) about the route of the pipeline through Sruwaddacon Bay and asked why there wasn’t more specific information about ‘stress analysis’.
Responding, a member of the Shell expert team said ‘the stress analysis was an ongoing process’.
“Here we have the longest [gas pipeline] tunnel in Europe” and it is still in “the design process”, Mr Wright observed.
Shell is currently carrying out a major bore-holing operation in Sruwaddacon Bay, subject to a license by the Minister for the Environment, John Gormley.
Responding, Esmonde Keane, Senior Counsel, said Shell had no difficulty providing initial stress tests, adding that the protracted assessment was because ‘a very high standard’ was being applied.
During further questioning Nigel Wright asked how the company was now able to reduce the pressure of the raw gas in the pipeline since they claimed at the 2009 oral hearing they could not.
Mr Gerry Costello, Deputy Project Director, said the company had researched the possibility of reducing the pressure in response to comments made by the board about hazard distance from houses, and to reflect issues that arose during the 2009 hearing.
“So we studied how we could reduce the pressure in line with other gas pipelines in Ireland,” Mr Costello. He cited an example of a gas pipeline in Dublin that has an operating pressure of 150 bar.
“We performed initial studies to see what MAOPs (allowable operating pressures) could be achieved and initial results showed 150 bar offshore and 100 bar onshore,” Mr Costello said.
At last year’s hearing Shell experts conceded to Mr Wright that residents would have just 30 seconds to escape from thermal radiation if there was a rupture and gas within the pipe was at full pressure.
Emergency Response Plan
MEANWHILE, local Parish Priest, Father Michael Nallen told Inspector Martin Nolan that the hearing should be suspended, if necessary, so the applicant could submit an Emergency Response Plan.
“We shouldn’t be proceeding with this hearing unless we have an Emergency Response Plan. It’s absolutely vital that the board provides us with this plan and the local people have an absolute right to make an input into this plan as this pipeline is at the heart of this community.”
Moreover, Esmonde Keane advised the hearing that he may seek legal instructions about the admissibility of DVDs submitted by local Shell to Sea observer, Terence Conway. He said some of the allegations made in these films were ‘scurrilous’ and could be prejudicial.
Inspector Nolan has set aside time this week for the DVDs to be shown.
DURING questioning on the following day (Wednesday), Peter Sweetman, an Environmental Consultant, told the hearing that objectors to the project had no faith in the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.
During a series of questions to department expert witnesses, Peter Sweetman said to the Bord Pleanála hearing chairman, Martin Nolan: “You are relying on the DCENR but this is the body that allowed [a pipeline pressure of] 345 bar.”
This proposed high-pressure in the raw gas pipeline was significantly reduced in the aftermath of the government commissioned Advantica report in 2006 and subsequent expert observations about hazards to adjacent householders.
Mr Sweetman also addressed concerns about the stability of Dooncarton mountain, the site of a devastating landslide, which in September 2003 left some householders homeless.
In an earlier submission, Peter Waite, an expert witness for the DCENR, said while the ‘current proposal to place a pipeline in a tunnel beneath Sruwaddacon Bay satisfies distance separation criteria’ it raised other issues.
He confirmed he had sought further information from Shell about a number of issues including ‘[clear] demonstration that continuous vibration from tunneling will not induce instability on the face of Dooncarton mountain’.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Sweetman said: “My concerns are that he (Mr Waite) had no information on the impact of vibration through water on the cliffs on both sides of the bay and on Dooncarton mountain.”
During an earlier submission, the previous week, the personal and familial impact of the landslide on the Barrett family, whose property ‘was almost destroyed’ during the landslide, was outlined by solicitor, Paul Brennan..
Furthermore, in response to a question by John Monaghan, of community group Pobal Chill Chomáin, Mr Waite confirmed the department was relying on the QRA (Quantified Risk Assessment) provided by the applicant and had not undertaken its own. However, he observed that while he had not conducted his own, he was ‘critically assessing’ the one submitted by Shell.
In a statement made by CER (Commission for Energy Regulation), Mr Garrett Blaney said its forthcoming Petroleum Safety Framework will outline the safety regulation ‘for each stage of the lifecycle of petroleum infrastructure’ including design, construction, operation, maintenance, modifications and decommissioning. He said that CER will have monitoring and enforcement powers.
In response to questions from Micheál Ó Seighin, Mr Blaney said an open consultative process will inform the make-up of the safety framework.
The hearing, which continues this week, is expected to finish on Friday next.