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Decision to locate gas terminal at Bellanaboy a mistake

Consultants should be appointed to re-examine the location of the controversial Corrib gas terminal, argue Leo Corcoran and Brian Coyle

Sometime before October 2000, Enterpise Energy Ireland (EEI) and the minister for the Marine and Natural Resources agreed to locate the gas processing terminal for the Corrib gas project in Bellanaboy. It is on a site surrounded by blanket bog, within the catchment of the primary water supply for the entire Erris region, located directly across from an established community. This resulted in a production pipeline carrying unprocessed gas running 9km (5.6 miles) inland parallel to another established community, and traversing the Broadhaven Bay Special Area of Conservation, all in breach of the code of practice.
The minister made a number of errors:
1.He agreed to sell the terminal site to EEI without first obtaining advice on its suitability and its compliance with the codes of practice.
2.The minister's consents for the onshore and offshore pipelines are in breach of EU Directive 98/30 because he failed to include a requirement that the pipeline comply with a code of practice.
3.The minister's consents for the pipeline are in breach of the code of practice.
4.The minister confined the terms of reference of the Advantica Safety Review to the pipeline even though the key issue was the siting of the terminal in Bellanaboy.
5.The minister confined the terms of reference of the mediation process to the pipeline even though he knew that the key issue was the siting of the terminal in Bellanaboy.
We have previously outlined in several reports that the terms of reference of the Advantica report were too narrow, since it focused on the effect (of the pipeline) rather than the cause (the Bellanaboy site) of the controversy. We have recommended that the gas processing terminal be located on the coastline thereby eliminating the requirement for an onshore production pipeline.
Advantica has stated in its own report that: "It does not include detailed examination of the feasibility of alternative project design options, alternative pipeline designs or routes."
The current impasse can the traced to the land deal entered into between the minister and the EEI to locate the terminal at Bellanaboy without first ensuring that a rigorous analysis of alternative sites was carried out.
The ground for proper planning was narrowed even further when, in October 2000, before the developer applied for planning permission, the Taoiseach and the minister attended a public meeting to witness the signing by the developer and Bord Gáis of a deal whereby Bord Gáis built a pipeline from Bellanaboy to the national grid at Galway and the announcing of a purchase by Bord Gáis of 26 per cent of the promised production.
A An Bord Pleanála inspector stated that: "The issue of the siting of a gas processing terminal in a remote location, inland at a significant . . . distance from the landfall, was avoided in my opinion and I would be strongly of the view that . . . any review of the documentation submitted would justify this conclusion . . ."
He added: "There is no evidence in the totality of the documentation now before the board that . . . specific alternative terminal sites were seriously investigated."
He stated that "the developer . . . ignored the board's request that it provide information about alternatives" and that the minister's consent for the pipeline "could reasonably be determined as being premature" and had "emphasised a perception to some degree that the granting of planning permission for the . . . processing terminal at the Ballanaboy site is a fait accompli". As the connecting downstream pipeline from Bellanaboy to Galway was already decided and announced, this conclusion is unavoidable.
When An Bord Pleanála granted permission for the site, it was unaware that the consents for the connecting upstream pipelines were essentially void, since the minister failed to include a requirement in his consents that the pipelines comply with a code of practice.
This is perhaps why Shell is seeking a new consent for the onshore pipeline.
Uniquely for a high-pressure gas pipeline, a code of practice was not specified by the minister. Likewise, the consent given under the foreshore licence for the offshore section of the upstream pipeline does not specify a code of practice.
The Gas Act is not prescriptive on this point, however, for good reasons, it has always been the case in Ireland that the developer of a high-pressure pipeline is obliged by law, under the letter of consent, to comply with a pipeline code of practice.
In the UK, all pipeline consents issued by the Department of Trade and Industry include a requirement to comply with a pipeline code of practice.
Engineers required to operate a pipeline are very aware that the letter of consent imposes a legal obligation on an undertaking and its employees to design, construct and operate the facility in accordance with the code.
In the case of the Corrib pipeline, the developer claimed to comply with BS 8010. However, this document was not specified by the minister in his consents for both sections of the upstream pipeline, and he issued his approvals without an obligation in law for the pipeline to comply with a code of practice. This was a very serious omission, as it could allow the developer to legally operate the facility in breach of the code.
Clearly this is an option which would not be acceptable to the local community and the wider public. It indicates that the minister was inadequately attentive to his regulatory duties and has not applied objective criteria in his consent for this pipeline.
Advantica indicated that, as currently designed, the pipeline cannot comply with the code of practice BS 8010 - or its replacement, PD 8010.
They concluded that the Quantified Risk Assessment carried out on behalf of the developer "fails to recognise the uncertainty in the risk modelling for such high design pressures as 345 bar". Consequently, they have recommended that the pipeline should not operate at the maximum allowable design pressure of 345 bar, and that it should be restricted to 144 bar and operate at a design factor no greater than 0.3.
By failing to apply objective and non-discriminatory criteria in granting his consents, the minister is in breach of EU Directive 98/30, and its replacement 2003/55 which outlines common rules for the internal market in natural gas.
Article 4, clause 2 of EU Directive 98/30 states that "Where member states have a system of . . . authorisation, they shall lay down objective and non-discriminatory criteria which shall be met by . . . an undertaking applying for an authorisation to build and/or operate natural gas facilities or . . . applying for an authorisation to supply natural gas".
Also by issuing both authorisations without any requirement for compliance with a code of practice, the minister failed to ensure that natural gas undertakings were treated consistently with regard to their rights and obligations as per Article 3 of the directive.
We call on the minister to appoint Advantica to carry out a study to identify the optimum location of the gas processing terminal. We welcome the offer from Shell to engage in meaningful dialogue and call on them to co-operate in the production of the proposed study.
We would also encourage the Shell to Sea group to look positively at our proposal.
Corrib gas has been dormant for 250 million years and will be depleted in 20 years. It is a gift of nature, a precious resource, which should be developed in a manner that fully values this finite resource and which is compliant with the codes of practice.
Leo Corcoran was engineering manager of Bord Gáis and Brian Coyle is a partner with consulting engineers Coyle Kennedy

© The Irish Times

Posted Date: 
25 October 2006 - 6:01pm