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Western People: If this pipeline is so safe why is no public body responsible for it

Western People: If this pipeline is so safe why is no public body responsible for it

“On application from counsel for Shell the judge awarded the company an order for costs.”: “The reality is that natural gas pipelines do and have exploded. This fact is well documented. As recently as July 2004 a Shell operated gas pipeline close to Brussels fractured, the resulting explosion killed 21 people including firefighters, and devastated a number of buildings.”

Posted Monday 11 July 2005

By: Mike Cunningham

The residents of Rossport have every reason to feel concerned about a gas pipeline that breaks all the usual industrial rules, writes Mike Cunningham.

Last Wednesday’s High Court action by Shell which culminated in the committal to prison of five Erris residents on a charge of contempt of court was indeed a disturbing state of affairs to have witnessed at first hand.

The five, four local landowners, Mr. Philip McGrath, Mr. Vincent McGrath, Mr. Brendan Philbin, Mr. Willie Corduff from Rossport and retired school teacher Mr. Micheál Ó Seighín from Ceathrú Thaidhg were jailed indefinitely for breaching a High Court order granted to Shell prohibiting them from protesting and impeding works on the route of the Corrib high pressure gas pipeline through the defendants lands at Rossport.

Accompanied by family and friends the group made their way from the village of Rossport in North Mayo to the Court No.6 in the Four Courts. The case was for mention before the President of the High Court Mr. Justice Finnegan.

The five were advised of the seriousness of the charges they faced, and the real risk of imprisonment and possible loss of their homes and farms together with substantial fines if they failed to give an undertaking to desist from impeding Shell from carrying out pipeline works through their lands. The five indicated that they were not prepared to comply with the court order. Mr. Justice Finnegan then assigned a judge to hear the case.

In the subsequent hearing before Mr. Justice McMenamin, Patrick Hanratty SC, outlined the case for Shell and told the court that all the necessary consents were in place by Shell. He sought committal orders, with attachments, against each of the defendants.

Mr. Hanratty said that Shell sought the committal orders against the five with considerable regret.

Mr. Justice McMenamin reiterated the seriousness of the consequences for the five in not complying with the President of the High Courts order of the 4th April which granted an injunction to Shell restraining obstruction of access to lands for the purpose of carrying out works related to the pipeline construction.

He also advised them of Mr. Justice Finnegan’s commitment, made in April, to hold a full hearing in the Autumn at which all their concerns would be taken into account.

In the interim, work could proceed on the pipeline route. However there could be no functioning of the pipeline until the outcome of the Autumn hearing was determined.

Each individual in turn addressed the court and outlined their fears for their families and loved ones mainly citing Health and Safety reasons. Mr. O Seighin referred to project splitting and the possibility that the pipeline could be installed prior to the autumn hearing, thereby rendering it virtually impossible to remove and reinstate the land, should the court so rule.

One by one the five defendants were asked by Justice McMenamin if they would give an undertaking to comply with the order of the court. All five refused to give such an undertaking.

Mr. Justice McMenamin told the five that reluctantly, he had no option but to commit them to prison indefinitely.

Some tears were shed in the courtroom but in the main noble dignity prevailed.

On application from counsel for Shell the judge awarded the company an order for costs.

The hearing was attended throughout by Oireachtas members Michael Ring, Dr. Jerry Cowley, Joe Higgins and Mayo Co Cllr Gerry Murray.

Three of the five jailed men, Philip and Vincent McGrath and Willie Corduff, were before the High Court again on Friday to face further charges of obstructing access to a Shell storage depot at Rossport.

The three told the court that they had not at any time obstructed the road and gave an undertaking not to do so.

Their assurances were accepted and the three were returned to prison.

The genuine fears of the local residents along the proposed 9 km high pressure pipeline route from landfall to the terminal have not been allayed. Rather than addressing their concerns in an open and transparent manner Shell and their partners have worked hand in glove with Government and the Local Regulatory Authority to misrepresent the facts in respect to the inherent danger of this section of the Corrib pipeline.

The fact of the matter is that the proposed pipeline containing odourless, contaminated raw gas, piped through unstable earth and operating at a maximum 345bar pressure, which it may reach at certain periods, poses a very real risk to life, property and the environment.

Its routing close to residential properties, falls far short of the minimum proximity distance, industry safety standards demand, for normal gas transmission pipelines. No Government agency, is prepared to accept accountability in the event of an explosion. One wonders where that accountability lies.

The reality is that natural gas pipelines do and have exploded. This fact is well documented. As recently as July 2004 a Shell operated gas pipeline close to Brussels fractured, the resulting explosion killed 21 people including firefighters, and devastated a number of buildings.

The pipeline had been operating at a pressure far lower than that envisaged for the proposed Corrib pipeline.

The release of an “independent” Quality Risk Assessment (QRA) by Minister Dempsey on the proposed pipeline is imminent. This report has been hastily commissioned after it was discovered that the previous report, which was submitted to the Minister’s department by Shell, was in fact undertaken by a Shell owned company.

The “independent” nature of such reports is questionable. They are in no way credible when they are produced by those with a vested interest in the industry, as is the prevailing situation in this country and the UK. The acceptance of industry “Best Practice” is meaningless in the context of the proposed Corrib pipeline. The installation of such a pipeline has never before been carried out.

Of course the Corrib fields 1 tcf (trillion cubic feet), of natural gas worth an estimated $5 billion, should be processed on an offshore production platform, a point endorsed in the An Bord Pleanála report which followed the initial Oral Hearing.

It is technically feasible. Cost is hardly a factor, after all, Shell alone reporting profits in excess of $1 million per hour and are spending in circa $15 billion each year on new projects. Such a platform would also qualify for abandonment relief at the end of its useful life.

The development of the Corrib Gas Field is but the tip of the iceberg in respect to probable gas and oil related reserves off our coastline. Five to seven tcf’s of gas remains to be developed off our Mayo coastline through the coming years.

Government has been aware of this from as far back as January 1998. The oil and gas industry advised them so.

What is taking place at the moment is the planned staged development of these reserves, Corrib being the forerunner.

Consequently, it is vitally important for the future safety and wellbeing of our people that all contentious Health and Safety issues and particularly those relating to the 9 km of high pressure gas pipeline are ironed out even at this late stage, whatever the cost.

Under current Fiscal legislation governing the Exploration and Exploitation of our offshore natural resources and introduced in 1987 and 1992, little or no benefit will accrue to the State from these vast reserves. The fiscal terms facilitate the writing off of:- all Exploration Costs (including those that are not field relevant); all Development Costs and all Operating Expenses; Abandonment allowances and loss relief , with respect to abandonment expenditures, are available.

There is No State participation, No Royalties and No Special Taxes.

A 25% Corporation Tax applies to profits from oil and gas production.

Under these hugely generous fiscal terms it certainly will be some long way down the road before Shell and their partners return any taxation benefit to the State.

The way forward in the current crisis for Shell and their partners is to cease their current works on the Corrib project until such time as the outcome of the full High Court hearing in the autumn is determined. They should immediately move to have those that are imprisoned released and withdraw the very real threat to their property and livelihoods.

Under the Joint Operating Agreement which governs this project, major equity partners Statoil and Marathon Petroleum have a serious role to play in events.

L Mike Cunningham is an industry expert on oil and gas exploration. He lives in Castlebar.

http://www.westernpeople.ie/news/story.asp?j=26168

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