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Irish Times: Council seeks 6m from Shell over fuel leak

Published: Jun 21, 2006

Meath County Council is seeking damages of up to 6 million from multinational giant Shell after the leakage of petroleum products from one of its petrol stations halted construction of new civic offices in Trim, Co Meath.

In High Court proceedings, the council is claiming damages estimated at between 5 million and 6 million after a hydrocarbon discharge in 2001 contaminated a site, previously used as a car park for the local swimming pool, adjoining a petrol station owned by Irish Shell Ltd at Watergate Street, Trim.

The council wants to reclaim losses and consequential costs it incurred because the contractor it employed to build the offices has not been able to do any work since April 2001.

The council is also seeking to have Shell clean up the site to a level that was allegedly agreed between the parties.

Although Shell admits responsibility for contamination of the site and for the direct costs of cleaning the site, it does not accept responsibility for any losses arising from the council’s decision to enter into a contract to build the offices.

It has also pleaded contributory negligence by the council arising from the latter’s entering into a contract for construction of the civic offices prior to conducting relevant surveys of the site.

Opening the case yesterday, Pat Butler SC, for the council, said his client was frustrated with Shell’s attitude. The company has been dragging its feet over the matter, he said. The council’s contractor had been unable to work on the site and Shell should have to pay the consequential costs on foot of the principle that the “polluter pays”.

Work was scheduled to start on the site in April 2001, but the contractor had to stop because of the “awful odour of petrol”, Mr Butler said. Shell later gave an undertaking to clean up the site, the court was told.

The court heard a petrol leak was detected in January of 2001, after a sheen from petrol hydrocarbons was observed in the nearby river Boyne. There had also been a number of other incidents over the last 10 years, it was stated.

After the leakage was detected in 2001, Shell was informed by the council that it would be seeking costs, including the consequential costs of the contractor not being able to build on the site, Mr Butler said.

In 2003, a consultant and a contractor was hired by Shell for the clean-up process. However, in November 2004, Shell dismissed the contractor and no work had been carried out since.

Mr Butler said Shell had claimed that it was not able to reach the agreed levels of decontamination but this, he argued, was an attempt by Shell “to move the goalposts.”

The matter had been referred to the Environmental Protection Agency, which decided there was no reason to depart from the original set of standards for the clean-up.

The case, which is being heard by Mr Justice Vivian Lavan, is expected to last two weeks.

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