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Irish Times: Shell accused of using ‘less stringent’ standards

Lorna Siggins, Marine Correspondent in Belmullet, Co Mayo, Irish Times
Published: Apr 17, 2007

Shell E&P Ireland has been accused of “trying to create an impression” that it will be discharging contaminants from the Corrib gas refinery “way out to sea”.

The company also appears to be resorting to less stringent environmental quality standards for treatment and volume of the discharge, the Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association maintains.

Mr Eddie Diver, the association’s spokesman, made the claims at yesterday’s opening session of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oral hearing in Belmullet, Co Mayo, on awarding a pollution control licence for the Corrib gas refinery.

The Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association is one of 13 appellants in relation to the licence, and its main concern relates to impact on the marine environment of the outfall pipe from the refinery, bearing treated chemical and metallic contaminants.

Other appellants include Shell E&P Ireland, An Taisce, local parish priest Fr Michael Nallen and several members of the Shell to Sea campaign.

The significant Garda presence at the hearing, and failure to supply key documentation in the Irish language in a Gaeltacht area, were among issues raised by several appellants during the initial stages of the hearing, chaired by EPA senior inspector Frank Clinton.

Appellant Imelda Moran also queried why other agencies, including the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), Mayo County Council and An Bord Pleanala, were not represented at the hearing, given that it was dealing with an integrated pollution licence.

The EPA has already granted preliminary approval for an integrated pollution prevention control (IPPC) licence for the refinery, but it was confirmed yesterday that the EPA inspector responsible for the decision will not be appearing at the hearing.

Several parties criticised this yesterday, including Mr Anthony Irwin, one of the appellants, who told the chairman that it was “absolutely useless” if the relevant EPA official was absent.

Delivering its submission yesterday, Corrib gas environmental adviser Agnes McLaverty said that natural gas operations in general did not pose large risks to the environment or to the public.

The processes and equipment proposed for the Bellanaboy Bridge terminal represented “technologies that Shell uses in gas plants in many parts of the world”, she said, and compliance with legislation and with the conditions of the IPPC licence would be “key priorities” for future management and staff in the terminal.

Ms McLaverty, who is a Norwegian chemical engineer and has worked in the oil and gas industry for 30 years, described in a 34-page submission the planned operation of the Bellanaboy refinery, which is scheduled to start working in the second half of 2009.

She also dealt with treatment of main emissions to air, water and the ground, as well as noise and waste.

The overall objective was to ensure that water discharges should cause “zero” harm to the environment, she said.

Responding to questions from Mr Diver of the Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association, Ms McLaverty said that modelling had been carried out in relation to dilution and dispersal of waste water at sea from the outfall pipe, which would be at a point 12.7km from the landfall.

The chairman agreed during further questioning by Mr Diver that the discharge point was “not offshore”.

Shell would have an expert on this aspect, the hearing was told. The company has employed eight witnesses as part of a team led by senior counsel Mr Esmonde Keane.

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