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Safety issues by Dr. Mark Garavan

A look at the issues involved by Dr. Mark Garavan, Shell to Sea
With the ‘Rossport Five’ now in prison over 60 days, it is appropriate to re-examine the reasons for their ongoing protest. This is particularly important in light of Minister Dempsey’s announcement of a further review of the proposed 9 km pipeline from landfall to the terminal at Bellanaboy which had been hailed in some quarters as offering a resolution to the pipeline controversy.
Three significant issues lie behind the five men’s continuing protest. First, international standards regarding safety distances from pipelines are not being followed in this case. Second, the development concept being adopted by Shell, i.e. the remote siting 8kms inland of a gas processing plant, has not been critically examined. Third, the actual effects of a failure of the proposed pipeline have not been outlined. These issues need to be understood in order to appreciate the rationale for local resistance to Shell and to understand why the imprisoned men have not been able to accept Minister Dempsey’s initiative.
The question of appropriate safety distances is at the core of the dispute. How far away from houses should a pipeline be when its operating pressure is from 120 to 150 bar and it could, in certain scenarios, reach 345 bar? The reality is that there are no directly applicable standards and were standards as are available applied then the proposal could not proceed in its current form. Minister Dempsey stated in the Dáil that ''there is no direct precedent'' and also noted that “the Corrib export pipeline has, for the onshore section, an extremely high design pressure of 345 bar, well above the normal design pressure’. The safety review study conducted by JP Kenny for the Department of Marine also noted that ''the Corrib gas pipeline is well above the normal design pressure for onshore gas pipelines'' and went on to say ''it is rare for an onshore pipeline to transport unprocessed well fluid in the vicinity of inhabited buildings''.
The risk assessment model conducted on the pipeline by Shell used only British pipeline data for comparison and ignored European and US figures. There is no direct comparability. British data is derived from pipelines carrying sales-specific dry gas, not unprocessed wet gas operating at very high pressures in unstable peat land topography. The design code used for the proposed pipeline suggests that for pressures of 345 bar (a pressure which the government's own safety review indicates could be reached on occasion [ref. Jonson Report 6.1.2]) the pipeline should be no closer than 170 metres to the nearest inhabited dwellings. If US standards were applied (hardly the bastion of extreme ecological views) the distance should be 295 metres. In the case of the proposed Rossport pipeline, houses are 70 metres away. Herein lies the problem. Why is the upstream pipeline being placed so close to houses? Who is responsible for this decision and who will be liable if something goes wrong?
The second issue of concern is that Shell’s development concept has not been subject to critical scrutiny. Indeed, this matter has been excluded from the Terms of Reference of Minister Dempsey’s latest review. It is not at all unreasonable to suggest that, for example, processing the gas offshore in shallow water would offer a clear solution to the problem. Gas would flow and safety would be better protected.
Indeed, contrary to Shell's repeated assertions of a successful passage of their proposals through the planning process, it should be noted that An Bord Pleanála in June 2002 directly found that “it has not been demonstrated that the remote siting of an onshore processing terminal eight kilometres inland from the landfall constitutes the best alternative''. They requested the company to compare their proposal with ''the development of a shallow water fixed steel jacket terminal''. The Board's Inspector, Mr. Kevin Moore, subsequently found in his report that ''the issue of concern is the remote siting of a processing terminal inland, away from the landfall. At no time in the submissions now before the Board and since the Board's request was issued is this concern addressed''. Mr. Moore also noted: “In conclusion, I would draw the attention of the Board to a response by Mr. Taylor [acting on behalf of Shell] in cross-examination by me at the Oral Hearings when asked is the crossing of an untreated gas pipeline, umbilical system and discharge pipe through a terrestrial corridor of 8 kms or more unprecedented. He submitted that it is the only one of a kind that he is aware of”.
Finally, the effect of an explosion has not been explicitly included in the proposed review. No one is suggesting that the pipeline is being built in order to explode. Of course not. However, in designing so unusual and dangerous a construction, one must examine the consequences of failure. How many will die in a rupture? How far might a vapour cloud of gas travel in the event of an uncontrolled release? What distance might a fireball travel from the pipeline? This is not scare mongering - this is simply competent design safety investigation. Pipelines do rupture. It’s not meant to happen but it does. One of the most recent occurred in the Belgian town of Ghislenghien in September of last year, killing twenty-one people and melting and burning everything within a 400-metre radius.
The Rossport five, their families and supporters have stepped in where the state and its regulatory agents have failed. That their demand for reason and standards has resulted in their imprisonment is a sad commentary on the quality of participative democracy in contemporary Ireland.
Dr. Mark Garavan, Department of Nursing, Health Science and Humanities, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Castlebar, Co. Mayo.
Tel: 094-9043143 (work) 094-9025197 (home)
Dr. Garavan is a leading member of the Shell to Sea campaign and has acted, with others, as a spokesperson for the Rossport Five.

Posted Date: 
30 August 2005 - 8:26pm