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Corrib Irish Pipeline Controversy

Shell will cheat the Irish in every way possible and laugh all the way to the bank in the process.”

Comment from a former employee of Shell Oil USA on the Corrib Gas Dispute

I have a fee comments about the Irish pipeline controversy.

I won’t comment at length on the deal an incompetent or corrupt (or both) Irish government cut with Shell, and partners, concerning royalties, taxes, etc., on the Corrib project. All that need be said is that the Irish government has given ‘big oil’ one of the best possible deals in the Greater North Sea/Atlantic geologic province when it comes to oil and gas production royalties and taxes, and their actions are almost entirely to the benefit of ‘big oil’.

When Shell and partners state that the ‘danger’ from the proposed Corrib gas pipeline is no greater than any other pipeline in Ireland the obvious question that comes to mind, in view of the recent disaster in California, is : ‘What is the condition of repair of those pipelines.’ Are they relatively new, or are they unmaintained antiquated disasters waiting to happen?

Normally, a new high pressure pipeline, designed, constructed and operated to the highest safety standards is truly a minimal threat to public safety. Those people living near that pipeline probably have a much higher probability of injury or death from driving their cars on a daily basis. My guess is that this pipeline in Ireland will be a very well designed and constructed pipeline. How it is operated is, to a great degree, up to the Irish government to regulate.

In the Northeastern part of the US there are many high pressure gas pipelines traversing the country side. You can tell where they run because of the signs designating their routes and the wide property easements on each side of the pipeline. These easements are on the order of 30-50 meters on each side of the pipeline and are there for safety reasons. No development is allowed in these easements.

In the US the utility companies do not have the right to plow up private property or establish an easement without compensating the owner of that property. Often times there are annual easement payments to the property owners to compensate for damage to properties values or for loss of income from farm land.

How does the US government get involved? In this country, and many others (except, for example, Japan) we have the concept of ‘Eminent Domain’. This allows the government to condemn private property and take ownership of it when it is clearly in the public’s best interest to do so. Law also provides for the granting of ‘easements’ across private property for public service utilities.

About ten years ago local governments in the US, at the urging of corporate interests, began condemning private property for reasons other than ‘clear public interest’ reasons. Corporate America was inducing local governments to condemn private property so that they could proceed ahead with some sort of development that would supposedly ‘increase the local tax base’. This practice amounted to nothing less than confiscation of private property by corporate interests under the guise of ‘public interest’. The practice became so common and popular it caused a big public uproar and debate. This practice has now been outlawed by most State governments, over the strident objections of big business interests, of course.

I am completely unfamiliar with Irish law, so I don’t know how these sorts of things proceed under Irish law. However, in most Western democracies, there must be some sort of clear ‘public interest’ involved before people’s private property can be taken by the government, for any reason. Given that the Irish government has virtually given away the oil and gas associated with the Corrib project to Shell and its partners, one is left to wonder whether there is a ‘clear public interest’ involved in the Corrib project. The next question is: ‘Where will the gas be consumed?’ Will it be consumed in Ireland or shipped to mainland Europe? If it is a resource to be consumed in Ireland then there is clear ‘public interest’ involved. If it is to be shipped to mainland Europe then there is not.

In any event, in most countries the Corrib project would be allowed to proceed if the project was clearly in the public interest of the people of Ireland. The government would be charged with insuring it was in the public interest and with insuring public safety through a regulatory body of some sort. Property owners damaged by the project would be ‘fairly compensated’ for their loss.

It is incumbent upon Irish political leadership to ensure competent stewardship of the resource they are allowing to be developed by ‘big oil’. From what I can tell the Irish government has failed miserably in that regard. The Irish government should be a clear ‘equity stake holder’ in that venture, because this is what is in the best public interests of the Irish people.

However, it is also up to the Irish people to rectify that situation. If the Irish are looking to their compromised elected leadership and Shell to ‘play fair’ then they are in for a very rude shock. Shell’s only interest is in making money, and they aren’t going to spend a dime more than they have to in the process. I have worked for Shell’s international operations. I know how they operate. Shell will cheat the Irish in every way possible and laugh all the way to the bank in the process.

Standard Oil in the US operated this way and we finally broke that company up about 80 years ago.

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