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Irish Times: Mayo gas pipeline controversy

Irish Times: Mayo gas pipeline controversy

“The main beneficiaries of the development of the Corrib field, under the existing agreement, will be Shell and its partners, not the people of Ireland.”: “No wonder Shell is in such a hurry to get this gas out from under the sea, in case Ireland suddenly wakes up to the fact it has foolishly given away a couple of billion euro worth of assets.”

Tuesday 9 August 2005

Madam, – The new safety review of the proposed Corrib Gas pipeline announced recently by Noel Dempsey poses an interesting dilemma for the pipelines’ opponents.

There is at least a possibility that this report will conclude that the pipeline’s risks to public health are very low. Rather than focus on the lack of impartiality of earlier risk assessments, I think it is important to move to a less ambiguous stance, namely that this pipeline and onshore terminal, as currently proposed, should not go ahead in any circumstances. Quite apart from the environmental degradation and the social impact on the area, an onshore terminal is totally unnecessary.

Once this point has been clarified, and once it is unambiguously stated that a land-based terminal is undesirable in any circumstances, then the onus will be entirely on Shell and Statoil to come up with an alternative proposal.

The Government could, perhaps, exercise some true political leadership and overturn the planning decision which granted permission for the terminal and its associated works. It is within its power to do this.

Let Shell apply for planning permission for an offshore terminal if it so wishes. There is no big rush, however, for Ireland to facilitate this. The main beneficiaries of the development of the Corrib field, under the existing agreement, will be Shell and its partners, not the people of Ireland.

One wonders whether this outrageous deal between the Irish State and the exploration companies, which literally gave away a national asset for nothing, should simply be declared null and void.

Even were it necessary to offer substantial compensation to the exploration companies, it could still be worth it in the long run.

Owing to the extremely short-sighted energy policies of the past decade, Ireland will be heavily dependent on natural gas for electricity generation for at least another 20 years.

At present, 40 per cent of our electricity comes from gas-fired power stations, and most of the rest from oil or coal-fired plants. The percentage of electricity generated in gas-fired power stations is expected to rise to 60 per cent or more in the coming decade. It is worth reiterating that we have no significant oil or coal deposits, and apart from the Corrib field, no gas either.

While it can be argued that Ireland badly needs the gas from the Corrib field, it should also be recognised that at best, our offshore gas deposits are only a short-term option in meeting our future energy needs. Without doubt, however, the longer we leave the Corrib gas under the Atlantic seabed, the more valuable an asset it will become.

Once the Corrib field is exhausted, our nearest source of natural gas will probably be the Caspian Sea basin. We will be at the very end of a 4,000- or 5,000-km pipeline originating in a part of the world not noted for its political stability.

The argument that we should develop the Corrib gas field as fast as possible in order to reduce our dependency on imported gas is ludicrous; this would have exactly the opposite effect. In the short term we might be better off, but when the field is depleted in 10 to 15 years’ time we will be worse off than ever.

Of all the possible options, by far the worst one is to permit Shell and its partners to exploit the Corrib gas field under the terms of the existing agreement. The benefits are few and the disadvantages many.

Nor is there any guarantee that the bulk of this gas won’t be exported to Britain or to other energy-hungry nations. No wonder Shell is in such a hurry to get this gas out from under the sea, in case Ireland suddenly wakes up to the fact it has foolishly given away a couple of billion euro worth of assets.

Finally, rather than heap all the blame on those Government ministers who made these rash and reckless decisions, it is worth remembering that Governments do not materialise in office by accident, but rather as the outcome of a popular mandate.

While people continue to vote for political parties which favour short-term profit for big business over long-term social and environmental considerations, it is little more than wishful thinking to expect energy policies to be different. We do have a choice. – Yours, etc,

ANDY WILSON, Corrig, Sandyhill, Westport, Co Mayo.

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