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Indymedia: Shell Poisoning Erris Water Supply: Don’t Mention The Water, Part One

By Oscar Beard

When I first met with John Monaghan during my time in Ireland, the first thing he mentioned was the pollution of the local water supply which was coming directly from the Shell/Statoil Corrib Gas Project at Bellanaboy Bridge.

This has been reported before on Now their latest reports are starting to point to what we uncovered whilst out there.

In order to construct the refinery foundations 500,000 tons of wet Atlantic peat must be removed. Shell started this but halted operations when high-aluminium content “doib” soil was exposed. The aluminium made contact with on-site surface water and proceeded to contaminate surrounding streams and rivers, all of which lead to Carrowmore Lake, the drinking water supply for over 10,000 residents in the Erris community.

Acting after the initial problem arose, on 8 September 2005, Mayo County Council (MCC) issued Shell E & P Ireland (SEPIL) an official warning: “Failure to take immediate action to avoid pollution of the waterways will result in MCC issuing a notice under Section 12 of the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977.”

Aluminium in drinking water has been linked to dementia and Alzheimer-type diseases, and bone disorders. Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) will not admit or deny this, stating the link between aluminium and such diseases “cannot be ruled out”, in 1993 they set a maximum limit of 200 ug/l (micrograms per litre).

The levels set on the Corrib Gas Project and issued directly to SEPIL are an “action limit” of 135 ug/l and an “maximum limit” of 200 ug/l.

It took Shell till February 2006 to act. They installed an Axonics Electro-Chemical Water Treatment Plant to strain out aluminium using electrical currents that passed through the water and collected the aluminium on conducting plates. But the aluminium levels kept rising and the Axonics plant continually broke down.

When asked by this journalist to discuss the levels of aluminium that the plant could safely deal with, no one at the Axonics company in Swansea would give a reply. The secretary said she was told to explain to me they were in a legally binding contract and were allowed not to make any comment without prior consent from the customer.

When the levels in the river, lake and water continued a steady rise the local community complained again. MCC acted again. This time it cut nearly all drinking water tests, reduced Carrowmore Lake tests dramatically and Shell began doing their own on-site testing.

By the end of 2006 the water coming off-site was regularly over the maximum limits, often two or three times and peaking at levels of over 2000 and 3000 ug/l.

Discrepancies were also found when records released from MCC were compared to the tests by Shell on-site.

On 13/12/06 Shell’s on-site testing showing an “indicative level” of 666 ug/l, still over three times the maximum limit. MCC Figures released in February showed the same date, same source of testing (SP1) and recorded 3271 ug/l.

On 20/12/06 Shell’s figures showed 180 ug/l. MCC recorded 1928 ug/l.

The knock-on effect has seen higher levels of aluminium appear in the lake and the drinking water itself. 03/01/07 it tested 521 ug/l. By 14/02/07 it had risen to 658 ug/l. The drinking water, tested twice from a source in Belmullet at the end of January 2007 first registered 1714 ug/l, then dropped several days later to 406 ug/l.

Shell denied they were anything to do with the rising levels, claiming it was because of river bank erosion in the area.

The pollution of Carrowmore Lake has more recently took centre-stage of the protest, leading to a site invasion by 60 locals and an occupation of council offices in recent weeks, who residents accused of failing to act on the issue (see

On 2 April 2007, I was informed by local people in the area Shell had recommenced the removal of the rest of the peat, which will expose more of the doib soil. Only one-third was originally removed in previous operations.

For further information:

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