"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.”
by Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD
2nd May 2003
ON 29 April, An Bord Pleanala announced that it had refused Enterprise Energy permission to construct a major onshore facility for bringing in natural gas from the Corrib gas field off the coast of Mayo. Enterprise Energy was formerly Enterprise Oil and is now owned by the massive Shell Oil Corporation.
The reasons for the refusal were that the design of the facility, which involved the creation of a huge mountain of displaced peat, could give rise to serious environmental pollution and that the project represented a threat to the health and safety of local residents.
The decision was a vindication of the very brave fight put up against the particular design of the project by local people who have organised themselves into an effective action group. Against the might of a powerful multinational oil corporation and the bureaucracy of Mayo County Council, they had been able to put together a strong case that stood up to independent scrutiny.
I have raised the issue of the Corrib field many times in the Dail over the past years. The terms of the licence granted to Enterprise Energy in 1992, as the company was then known amounts to a huge scandal and one, which has not been explained since. The Company was given the right to take out as much oil and gas as they could find and pay not one penny in royalties to the Irish people. Further it could write off all its costs in developing this field and also other unconnected exploration costs against any tax that would be levied on its profits.
These incredible terms were given by the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat Coalition Government in place at the time.
Enterprise Oil is a significant corporate donor to Fianna Fail. Its representatives have featured among the other elements of big business and assorted speculators in he annual Fianna Fail tent at the Galway Races where the rich and powerful get access to Government and to the Taoiseach himself, Bertie Ahern.
The refusal of permission for the project by Shell should be the occasion for a major overhaul of the licences given out over recent years. There is news now of a number of other significant deposits of oil or gas in other fields off the coast. Most recently there is evidence of a substantial presence of oil off the coast of Donegal. Quite clearly a state oil exploration and production company should be established. Its remit would be to find and produce oil and gas. It would be to develop this resource for the benefit of the ordinary person in this country rather than swell further the profits of the major oil corporations.
This company should be organised in a completely different to the bureaucratic manner of previous state enterprises. Its board should be decisively composed of worker representatives and also representatives of the consumer as well as local environmental and residents groups. There should also be an immediate investigation into new technological means of extracting and bringing ashore oil and gas without having to have the kind of dangerous facility as that now refused in North Mayo.
The discovery of oil and gas that can provide our energy resources over a number of decades should not mean that there should be a let up in research and the development of alternative energy resources that would have much less damaging effects on the environment. Taking the oil and gas business out of the hands of the multinational corporations would speed up this search.
I will be returning to this issue in the Dail shortly and again putting pressure on the Government to develop an honest energy strategy whose only criterion will be the wellbeing of the majority of residents of this state and the minimisation and eventual elimination of environmental degradation as a result of oil and gas use as energy sources.