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Shell has put Corrib project ahead of local people, says Erris priest
By: Daniel HickeyFr Michael Nallen administers in Kilcommon parish, one of the largest parishes in Mayo, if not in Ireland. And it is in the middle of that parish - in Bellanaboy to be precise - where Shell E&P Ireland propose to build a gas refinery. Daniel Hickey reports.
FR Nallen is one of the 13 appellants who submitted an objection to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding their preliminary approval of a pollution control licence for the operation of the refinery, and last Monday the EPA’s oral hearing into granting of that licence began in the Broadhaven Bay Hotel in Belmullet. Other appellants include Shell E&P Ireland, An Taisce, the Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association and several members of the Shell to Sea campaign.
On Thursday evening, Fr Nallen addressed the hearing.
“My own submission is out of concern,” he said. “I wrote it out of concern for our environment, for our marine environment, the fishermen who depend on it.”
The prevalent mood - among the objectors at least - was one of concern and of worry.
And whether or not those worries and concerns have been adequately addressed at the oral hearing appears to depend on which side of the dispute your sympathies dwell.
Shell has employed eight witnesses as part of a team led by senior counsel Esmonde Keane.
On Monday, Shell was accused of “trying to create an impression” that it will be discharging contaminants from the Corrib gas refinery “way out to sea”.
According to Mr Divers, the company also appears to be resorting to less stringent environmental quality standards for treatment and volume of the discharge.
The main concern of the Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association relates to the impact on the marine environment of the outfall pipe from the refinery; treated chemicals and mechanical contaminants.
Appellant Imelda Moran queried why other agencies, including the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), Mayo County Council and An Bord Pleanala, were not represented at the hearing, given that it was dealing with an integrated pollution licence.
The EPA has already granted preliminary approval for an integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) licence for the refinery, but it was confirmed on Monday that the EPA inspector responsible for the decision will not be appearing at the hearing.
Several parties criticised this, including Anthony Irwin, one of the appellants, who told the chairman that it was “absolutely useless” if the relevant EPA official was absent.
Delivering its submission on Monday, Corrib gas environmental adviser Agnes McLaverty said that natural gas operations in general did not pose large risks to the environment or to the public.
The processes and equipment proposed for the Bellanaboy Bridge refinery represented “technologies that Shell uses in gas plants in many parts of the world” she said, and compliance with legislation and with conditions of the IPPC licence would be “key priorities” for future management and staff in the refinery.
Ms McLaverty, a Norwegian chemical engineer who has worked in the oil and gas industry for 30 years, described in a 34-page submission the planned operation of the Bellanaboy refinery.
On Wednesday, Micheal O’Seighin, one of the objectors, pointed out disparities in the Shell’s figures regarding predicted emissions from the proposed refinery.
In its application for planning permission in November 2000, the company said approximately 65 million tonnes of CO2 per year would be emitted from the refinery.
In April 2001 the same project was applied for again. Predicted emissions for CO2 had fallen to approximately 47 million kgs per year, a reduction of 27 per cent.
Questioning the figures, Mr O’Seighin asked: “Where does spin end and science begin?”
“On what basis,” he asked, “does the EPA decide that one set of figures is more credible than another set of figures?”
James Garvie - an Associate Director in Shell with responsibilities for the atmospheric environment - said that if emissions do increase at the proposed refinery, Shell will be “in breach of the proposed determination of the IPPC licence” and that “it is anticipated that emissions will be significantly less than the limits set by the proposed determination [of the IPPC licence].
“If non-compliance occurs, the EPA has full licence to review the IPPC,” he said.
On Thursday, while discussing objections raised in relation to air quality, doubts were voiced over the meteorological data assessed by Shell in their modelling and design of the proposed Bellanaboy refinery - in particular, how it would deal with air quality and drainage.
The chairman said the issue of meteorological data will be taken into account in the recommendation he makes to the EPA.
Responding to a number of the appellants’ concerns about a repeat of the rainfall conditions that resulted in the Pollathomish landslide of 2003, Dr Nigel Peters - employed by Shell as a Senior Consultant in Health, Safety and the Environment - said that the company have made provisions for such a scenario. The company has designed for a maximum rainfall event of 67.8 mm over 24 hours, he said. When asked by the chairman where that figure was taken from, Dr Peters said it was taken from the data regarding the Pollathomas landslide.
Responding to the chairman’s assertion that if there is “an actual recorded, monitored figure, you should know about it,” Dr Peters said that he did not know where exactly the figure was taken from.
The chairman added that he needed to know whether or not the figure of 67.8 mm was an actual measured figure or a projection.
Disputing the data, Mr O’Seighin said that “no rain fell in Belmullet that night”.
Shell’s weather data has been taken from Belmullet weather station.
Mr Garvie said that Shell has no actual data from the site of the proposed refinery, and that it is “common practice” to use the nearest set of data available.
Anthony Irwin said he was “amazed” that Shell did not carry out studies on the site. “You cannot predict from Belmullet what the weather is doing at Bellanaboy,” he said.
Although Mr Peters said that the site has been designed to take into account “all of the eventualities” to which a number of the objectors alluded, the doubt, worry and concerns remain.
The figure of 67.8mm over 24 hours had “no scientific validity at all,” said Mr O’Seighin.
Blame for the Corrib gas controversy was firmly laid on the doorstep of Minister for the Marine Noel Dempsey and former minister Frank Fahey by a member of An Taisce.
Leo Corcoran, a former Bord Gáis engineer, argued that the issuing of “dodgy consents” was the biggest mistake, and that the manner in which the project has been handled would never have been countenanced by Bord Gáis.
His claim that Shell was in breach of codes of practice adhered to throughout Europe was vigorously challenged by Shell's senior counsel, Esmonde Keane, who was accused by appellant Ed Moran of “using and abusing” court-room techniques in his cross-examination.
Mr Corcoran said there were significant differences between the Bellanaboy refinery and one at St Fergus, in Scotland, which was used as an evaluation basis by the EPA inspector who granted the conditional IPPC licence last January. The St Fergus refinery is located exactly on the coastline, has a short production pipe, is not adjacent to a water catchment area and is located in a specially designated area for oil development, he said.
He said the fact that a Shell expert witness, Dr Nigel Peters, a health, safety and environment consultant with the company, had refused to answer a key question was telling. Mr Corcoran had asked whether it would be acceptable practice in Scotland to have instead located St Fergus adjacent to the nearby town of Peterhead, which, like Bellanaboy, is within a catchment area of drinking water for 10,000 people.
In his submission, Leo Corcoran said the Scottish Environment Protection Authority - “an organisation with considerable experience in licensing such facilities” - agreed the terminal should not be located within a drinking water catchment.
He quoted its head of water policy, Martin Marsden: “When consulted on the location of major industrial facilities, SEPA would normally recommend against placing such facilities at locations which could affect public drinking water.”
An episode - illustrative, perhaps, of the hearing though not definitive - is when Dr Nigel Peters offered to “take the opportunity to address some uncertainty”.
He showed diagrams of the design of the drainage system, to the objectors, to the Shell employees and to the EPA chairmen.
Aiming a prompter at the screen, Dr Peters explained the flow of water through the site and the drainage off it.
Afterward, Mr O’Seighin said: “It’s a very fine system and I would like to have it in my back garden, but we must keep it in mind that it’s theoretical and that with human error and accumulations of sediment... that it’s from these something may happen along the way...”
The uncertainty which Dr Peters - and the other Shell witnesses - said he was trying to address did not, and has not, disappeared.
The answer for why it has not disappeared may be found in something Fr Nallen said during his submission. “Throughout,” said Fr Nallen referring to the entire process, from 2000 until the present, “people have been put in second place. The issue seems to be commerce... We’re all supporters of the project but we want it done right.”

Posted Date: 
27 April 2007 - 7:37pm