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Shell ‘breached’ pipeline consent

THE SUNDAY TIMES (UK): Shell ‘breached’ pipeline consent

“THE government has ordered Shell to explain why the oil company appears to have breached the terms of permission it was given to carry out work on the controversial Corrib gas pipeline in Mayo.”: The Department of the Marine made another embarrassing climbdown concerning the project last month, when it emerged that an “independent” risk assessment of the pipeline was being carried out by a company jointly owned by Shell and BP.”

Sunday 24 July 2005

Richard Oakley and Scott Millar

THE government has ordered Shell to explain why the oil company appears to have breached the terms of permission it was given to carry out work on the controversial Corrib gas pipeline in Mayo.

Noel Dempsey, the marine minister, has written to the company demanding the explanation after his inspectors found that Shell had carried out works other than the preparatory ones for which it has consent.

“Shell has an opportunity to reply to me on this, but as far as I am concerned this is very serious,” Dempsey said yesterday.

According to the marine department, it has evidence that at least 3km of pipeline have been welded together, contrary to the terms of the consent.

Five Mayo men, the so-called Rossport Five, are in jail for obstructing work on the pipeline and for being in breach of a court order directing them to desist. They and other locals have claimed since June that Shell was breaching the terms of consent for preparatory work. They argued this unsuccessfully in court in an attempt to have an injunction Shell secured in April overturned.

Campaigners said that the department’s findings have vindicated their position and it should lead to the release of the men from Cloverhill prison.

Brid McGarry, a local landowner who told gardai in June that Shell was breaching the terms of consent, said: “We have been saying this all along. The reality is that all this was raised in court but the judge seemed not to take it on board and it was the five men who were found to be in contempt.”

She added: “It is a great thing it has now been clarified.”

The Department of the Marine made another embarrassing climbdown concerning the project last month, when it emerged that an “independent” risk assessment of the pipeline was being carried out by a company jointly owned by Shell and BP. Following receipt of the letter from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Shell E&P Ireland (SEPIL) said: “We acknowledge there may have been a technical breach of the consent and regretted it if that proved to be the case.

“The company will continue to work closely with the department to ensure that no possible departures from the terms of the minister’s consent occur in the future,” it said.

The revelation cheered an estimated 2,000 supporters of the Rossport Five who gathered in Dublin yesterday. Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, and a number of TDs were in attendance. Many of the speakers called not only for the release of the men but also a review of the deal agreed by the Irish government in the 1980s to give offshore exploration rights to companies at low cost, deals which see rights to natural sources being sold in their entirety to multinationals which then process them.

Shell could be fined for the breach, but it is more likely that the marine department will instead consider introducing a stricter regime and subject the company to more regular inspections.

At present Shell reports to the department and informs it of what work it has carried out at the site. The state could take a much more active role in determining what works have occurred rather than accepting Shell’s word.

It is understood that Shell had permission to do some welding testing at the site and to bring sections of pipe to the area. It did not, however, have consent to carry out actual welding.

It is also understood that one report from the company informed the department that it had started welding work, but was overlooked for some time.

Stricter monitoring is unlikely to bring an end to the standoff between locals opposed to the pipeline and the company. Campaigners want the gas to be refined offshore rather than 10km inland.

Shell has a compulsory purchase order for local land, granted by the marine department in 2002. Frank Fahey, the then minister, deemed the construction of the pipeline to be in the national interest, which allowed the CPOs to be granted.

Jerry Cowley, independent TD for Mayo, said the Rossport Five were likely to continue fighting. “These men were not taken seriously before they ended up in jail and now they are; why would they stop?” he said.

“Shell should be told to refine the gas offshore and that should be the end of it. These men are not opposed to the project as such, they are opposed to a high-pressure pipeline transporting it across lands near their homes.”

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