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The Sunday Times: Shell’s pipes ‘rusting away’

The Sunday Times April 30, 2006

Shell’s pipes ‘rusting away’

Aine Ryan

AS if Shell did not have enough problems already with the Corrib gas field, it has now emerged that the pipes it plans to use to pump gas ashore in north Mayo are rusting away in Killybegs.

Work on the €900m Corrib gas project is suspended, and while Shell waits for a breakthrough in the stand-off with locals, more than 7,000 pipes that it bought four years ago are being battered by the Atlantic elements in Donegal. The oil company has already spent about €3m having them cleaned and preserved.

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Experts say that “shot-blasting” is the only way to ensure “the integrity and wall thickness of corroded pipes”, but it appears that Shell has not used this method so far.

Shell to Sea, a protest group campaigning for the gas to be refined offshore, claims a significant number of the pipes are now corroded by rust and are not protected by plastic caps.

The anti-Shell protesters were tipped off about the condition of the pipes recently in an anonymous letter from a Killybegs fisherman who says that he was employed to clean them last year.

The man claimed “the cleaning process was a joke and a waste of time” and that Shell had decided that shot-blasting and painting were “too dear”. Instead it instructed contractors to wash the pipes out with water, put a plastic cap on the end and then wrap up the bare metal with a greased tape.

Susan Shannon, a Shell spokeswoman, confirmed that a British company, Barrier, has a contract to clean the steel pipes.

Shannon said that Shell had a regular regime for checking cracks in the plastic end-caps, and insisted that the pipes will be rigorously inspected before being moved to north Mayo.

According to the anonymous letter, broken end-caps and greased tape are now being take off the pipes, which have rusted in the past year.

“This means that the pipes in Donegal are effectively scrap at the moment,” said John Monaghan, son-in-law of Micheal O’Seighin, one of the Rossport Five. “We are horrified at the lack of care Shell is taking of the pipes in Donegal, where there are no protesters, while apparently babysitting those in Bellanaboy.”

Shell says the pipes will be moved from Killybegs so they can all be stored at one location.

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