"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.”
A SENIOR OFFICIAL from Shell Ireland told the second-in-command of the US delegation to Ireland that his company thought there may be “20 or more” offshore gas fields of the size of the Corrib Gas development, according to a leaked diplomatic cable.
The document – obtained by WikiLeaks and published by the Guardian – quotes Julian Cetti, head of commercial and business strategy in Shell Ireland, as saying there “could be 20 or more Corribs out there – or very little - depending on how the exploratory drilling progresses this year.”
The presence of so many more off-shore fields would prove a major economic boost to Ireland, given government estimates that the Corrib field alone would yield up to €1.7bn in tax revenue for the government.
Opponents of the project cite government estimates that the stocks of gas and oil in the Rockall and Porcubine basins in the North Atlantic could be worth the equivalent of 10 billion barrels of oil – an estimate that, given the current price of oil, puts the value of the gas and oil deposits at almost €700bn.
Shell is the main stakeholder in the controversial Corrib gas project, holding a 45% stake in the venture hoping to extract the gas from the field, which lies 83km off the coast of Co Mayo.
The field is estimated to be about 70% of the size of the Kinsale Head gas field off Cork, which was discovered in 1973 and met Ireland’s main gas needs until well into the mid-1990s.
The controversial project – which has been continually put on hold due to the opposition of residents in Rossport, who object to the processing and refining of the offshore gas at an on-shore site near their homes.
The admission of Shell’s hopes that gas worth so much could remain untapped in Irish waters underlines the stakes of the Corrib gas dispute.
Last month Statoil, another main player with a 36.5% stake in the project, wrote down the value of its own stake the project by almost €200m, citing delays in extracting the gas from the field.
The confidential document is written by Robert Faucher, who was the deputy chef de mission under ambassador Thomas C Foley, and paints a frustrating picture of Irish energy policy, commenting that the government was willing to “kick the can down the road” and force a successive cabinet to deal with energy shortages.
Faucher had met with Cetti directly as well as many other leading energy officials, including ESB CEO Padraig McManus, Sustainable Energy Ireland chief David Taylor, and senior civil servants at the Green Party-controlled departments of communications and environment.