"This is one of the most important stories of it's kind in Europe."
ShelltoSea Campaigners today reacted with caution to the news that that Shell E&P Ireland had paid for full Irish breakfasts for an invited audience of engineers to encourage them to attend a presentation by Andy Pyle, Manager Director of the consortium whose injunction kept 5 peaceful protesters from Rossport in prison for over three months (from June 29th until September 30th). The well attended event was held at the Institute of Engineers of Ireland, on Clyde Road in Ballsbridge in Dublin, at 8AM this morning, October 19th.
''One can't help but be reminded of Willie Corduff's abandoned breakfast on the morning in June when he was alerted to the presence of Shell operatives carrying out work on his land without his consent'' said a spokesperson for Shell to Sea in Dublin, ''or the many grim prison breakfasts that the Rossport 5 had to endure during their incarceration in Cloverhill jail''.
After a shaky start when he had difficulty locating the correct icon his computer screen, (not exactly building confidence in Shell's technical abilities), Mr Pyle gave a completely one-sided version of the safety aspects of the Corrib Scheme, repeating his company's assertion that there was nothing unusual or strange about a pipeline carrying untreated gas through a residential area to a refinery. He found it difficult however, to recall exactly how many similiar pipelines there were in the world, and whether they were completed or not at present. He pointed out that it was extremely unlikely that anything would go wrong with his pipeline, but then explained that the pipe itself was made to withstand maximum pressure, so that it can cope with what he claimed was an event that was extremely unlikely to occur. The obvious question, -why design for something that you don't think is even slightly realistic? -remained unanswered.
Indeed Mr Pyle didn't answer very many of the questions that remain outstanding about the scheme. His pre-scripted talk made no mention of the safety standards in Britain and the United States that would preclude such a pipeline passing so near inhabited areas; he could find no space to talk about the extraordinarily generous licensing agreements his company have secured from the Irish government; nor could he explain how he justified the neat bit of accounting that meant that his company's legal costs are claimed against the tiny amount of tax they will be charged, in effect making the Irish people pay for the cost of the legal persecution of the Rossport 5.
Instead, he said his presentation was ''to expose myths about the Corrib project''. So the audience were told of the four reasons that the company chose to site the refinery onshore, instead of -as is usual- offshore, The first of these was, rather surprisingly, safety.
''No one enjoys being exposed to the risk of accident 24 hours per day,'' he said. So positioning the gas treatment plant onshore reduced the risk of twenty-four hour exposure. Reduced the risk for the workers that is, who will only be there for eight hours at a time, not for the unfortunate people who live near the pipeline. They, and their children, will of course have to endure the risk of an explosion 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
Mr Pyle's second reason for situating the refinery inland was to do with the environment. He didn't think the coastline was suitable for the refinery , so the onshore site at Bellanaboy was considered preferable. One might have thought that a mile or so out at sea was even better for the environmet than putting an oil refinery on an ancient peat bog, but again, that didn't seem to have occured to him. Mr Pyle was on sounder footing when it came to his last two reasons for the inland refinery - technical and cost issues. It will be considerably cheaper and easier for Shell to build a refinery inland and pump the untreated gas though 6 miles of experimental pipeline. No one can argue against the fact that the present proposal will maximise Shell's profits. What most of the population of Ireland wonder is whether the safety and security of the local people is being taken as seriously as the desire to make as much money as easily as possible.
When asked to consider the campaign against the pipeline, Mr Pyle expressed the view that ''someone somewhere'' will always object to whatever plan the company could come up with. He didn't believe that Shell should endeavour to send the protesters back to prison, but not because the company had any moral or humane objection to jailing protesters, but simply because as a tactic it hadn't worked. In response to a question as to what the company saw as the likely outcome of continued protests against the Corrib scheme, he professed not to have an answer. He claimed that the scheme enjoyed some support in Mayo, and hoped to build on that support across the country over the next few months. Shell to Sea will be on the lookout to see if Andy Pyle thinks he can change the opinion of the wider public for the price of a few more breakfasts.