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The Sunday Times: Shell set to reroute pipeline

July 30, 2006
Stephen O’Brien
 
SHELL is to announce within two weeks that it is prepared to reroute the Corrib gas pipeline in Mayo, in an attempt to end the local protests that have stymied the €900m project.

The state-owned Bord Gais is expected to become involved in the selection of a new route when it joins forces with Shell in the project. 
 
The rerouting is likely to involve moving the pipeline about 200 metres from local homes. The nearest house to the current route across the Rossport peninsula is 70 metres away.

Moving the pipeline will not require planning permission, but the change will need ministerial consent, which could delay construction by 12 to 18 months.

Peter Cassells, who mediated between the multinational and locals, last week reported to Noel Dempsey, the natural resources minister, that Shell should “modify the route of the pipeline in the vicinity of Rossport to address community concerns”.

Shell will issue a detailed response to Cassells in the next two weeks. In addition to expressing its willingness to move the pipeline, there is a growing expectation that the lead partner in the Corrib consortium — which includes Statoil and Marathon — will accept all of Cassells’ recommendations in a bid to end the stand-off .

One source close to the process said: “Shell doesn’t have too many options here. It’s hard to see how they can cherry-pick the Cassells report if they want to make the breakthrough with majority local support. It’s pretty much all or nothing.”

A Shell source indicated a readiness on the part of the exploration firm to improve the existing offer of “benefits to the community”, as recommended by Cassells. Shell has already agreed to make good on the commitment of Enterprise Oil, the company that found the Corrib gas and then sold on the project, to create a €1.3m community fund when gas begins to flow from Erris.

But the company is now prepared to start paying out as soon as construction begins on the pipeline and the processing facility at Bellanaboy, east of Rossport, rather than waiting for construction to be complete and gas to flow.

The fund is also likely to be worth considerably in excess of €1.3m, the Shell source said, and could be used for a seed fund to create employment and to foster entrepreneurial activity in Erris. A €450,000 payment to the local community based on €1 per cubic meter of peat moved from the Bellanaboy site could also be increased significantly.

Bord Gais said yesterday: “We note with interest the Cassells report published last week. Bord Gais is keen to see Corrib gas brought ashore as it is important for the diversity and security of gas supplies.

“If approached by the Corrib partners we will work with all concerned parties to see how we can assist in the delivery of the project.”

When the mediation process began last year, Shell said all pipeline routes would be considered and a spokesman said yesterday, “that remains the case”.

Brendan Philbin, one of the five protesters jailed last year for defiance of court injunctions allowing the pipeline to proceed, said he had not fully read the Cassells report or formed a response.

Mark Garavan, a Shell to Sea spokesman, said moving the pipeline a couple of hundred metres from houses was not a solution. He said the core problem was the location of the gas-processing facility. Nor did he believe the geology of the peninsula would allow such a route, as the existing course was “pretty much equidistant between the houses and the shoreline”.

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