|Liamy McNally on the matters of fact and the facts of the matter|
|Clearing the Corrib fog
To coin a well-used phrase, ‘They haven’t gone away, you know.’ The phrase can be applied to any or all sides in the Corrib gas debate. All hands are still on deck, even if things are still a little hazy. The fog horn still sounds along the route of the Corrib gas project. Fog horns serve a positive purpose, there is hope on the horizon.
Last Wednesday, almost four months after he received the final Advantica report, Minister Noel Dempsey released it. Of course the release was ‘managed’ – RTE received the first copy to allow them to ‘prepare’ for a television interview. They are the national broadcaster pleaded the Minister when the unfairness of it was pointed out to him. The rest of us received the report at 1pm and an interview with the Minister at 1.05pm. Speed reading comes with the job! It is just another example of the arrogance of power when dealing with people. The previous Friday certain politicians and quasi-politicians could advise journalists to ‘be ready’ for Tuesday or Wednesday. How is it that the chosen few (always) know what is about to happen?
Wednesday heralded the much-awaited Advantica report. No surprises. It lined up well alongside the draft report from last December. It was being sold by the Minister as a safety review, which it was not, it was a selective review. And, as expected, Shell will accept the findings.
Then things started to run like an express train. Rather than spin out the reaction to the Advantica report, Shell ran away into new territory. It issued an apology. It put all the reports in the halfpenny place as the company’s Managing Director, Andy Pyle, admitted that Shell had made mistakes and apologised for the hurt caused to the men who were imprisoned for 94 days and their families. The apology was accepted, with hopes that progress would be next. Then Shell said, in a somewhat roundabout fashion, that all options were on the table. What has been known by many and acknowledged by a few (including some Shell personnel) emerged – Rossport is really out of the picture as a route for the upstream pipeline. The adjacent bay is an option as are other routes. With some reading between the lines the offshore option is on the table, albeit most unwillingly, and probably as a discussion tactic at best. This option has a choice between the deep water and shallow water option. The shallow water option would be a bonanza for Belmullet but too many people were too quick to accept the much-hated land-based option, as proposed at Bellanaboy. There is another land site on the west of Belmullet that would be more suitable from a (human) safety aspect but this was not properly examined as the Coillte site in Bellanaboy was the proverbial gift horse, or so it seemed at the time.
Let’s go back! Advantica is a vindication of the stance taken by the Rossport Five, their families and supporters and by the opponents of the Bellanaboy site. They rejected this site and its associated routes as the best option for the terminal many years ago. What the Advantica report does is point out in black and white the serious inadequacies of Shell’s upstream pipeline proposal, along with the serious flaws attached to the Petroleum Affairs Division of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The Rossport Five have done Erris, Mayo and the country a service that will never be recognised in the short term. Through their campaign they have ensured, not that the rules are re-written, but that they are written up in the first place. They have ensured that there are rules. Up to now it was a free for all for the oil and gas companies. Now responsibility for upstream pipelines rests with the Commission for Energy Regulation. This is major development. A reduction in the capacity of the Shell pipeline to a maximum of 144 bar is another major victory. Let the Shell apologists stop saying that the maximum pressure going through the pipeline is 120 bar. Let them check the Shell Environmental Impact Statement, if they find the correct one because there were so many.
And the quasi-politicos and all who are interested in ensuring that the west gets its fair share also owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Rossport Five and their families. While there will be a queue to claim the place at the top table for ensuring that CER changed their criteria for providing a gas supply to towns along the gas grid, the reality is that it was the Rossport Five crisis that ensured that these regulations were changed. In effect, the Rossport Five campaign will ensure that Mayo towns receive gas, the flawed project as proposed is less flawed and responsibility for upstream pipelines will now be assumed by a statutory body. To think that no statutory body had responsibility for upstream pipelines before this makes a mockery of this whole project. It also highlights the serious inadequacies within a Department that is charged with encouraging exploration on the one hand and policing it on the other hand. It even raises questions about the role of the local authority, Mayo County Council, in such a project.
The Rossport Five campaign has been a success on all fronts. Their campaign was based on a ‘justice for all’ policy, not a ‘gains for a few’ policy.
There is an opportunity now for all sides to be honest with each other. The Shell to Sea campaign has wound up many local people because of the actions of a few people. This should not deter from the bigger picture which is about ensuring that the gas is brought ashore safely and that Mayo benefits. This is about a long term goal not a short term gain. An apology for wrongdoing also carries with it a duty for reparation. The Corrib gas project can be a win-win project. It is only such a pity that such pain, tears and aggression had to be experienced first.