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Irish Times: Shell queried on plans to cold-vent gas at refinery

Aine Ryan, Irish Times
Published: Apr 18, 2007

Shell E&P Ireland has been asked to provide detailed documentation of a consultation process the company claims it carried out with Mayo County Council and the community living near the proposed Bellanaboy refinery, regarding its decision to cold-vent gas rather than flare it.

On the second day of the Environmental Protection Agency’s oral hearing into the issuing of an integrated pollution prevention licence, the chairman, Frank Clinton, observed to Shell representatives that “there isn’t much in the way of supporting fact around this consulting process”.

He was referring to a section of a statement made by one of its expert witnesses, Ian McRae, which said: “However, in the case of the Bellanaboy bridge terminal, the overriding influence in the decision to permit releases to be cold-vented is the commitment to the local community and the planning authority to reduce to a minimum the visual intrusion and disturbance that could arise from the operation of a flare, in what is a rural area.”

The cold-venting of gas, usually methane, means it is released directly into the environment, without being burned.

There has been an ongoing debate over the fact that this proposed process was omitted from Shell’s original environmental impact statement and later added as an addendum.

Imelda Moran said yesterday that since Shell had implicated Mayo County Council in this decision, it should be mandated to attend the hearing.

The chairman declined to do so.

Ms Moran also said that she had been involved in collecting 200 signatures within a five-kilometre radius of the proposed refinery, and all signatories said they had not been consulted about cold-venting.

“Without very clear and substantive information regarding the consultation process, I will have to take a very serious look at cold-venting,” said the chairman. “This is one of the central issues and I won’t forget about it.”

When asked by appellant Tony Irwin if it would not be easier to simply move the discharge pipe farther out to sea, Prof Peter Matthiessen, an independent ecotoxicology consultant, highlighted the extra costs for Shell, saying that cost-benefits must be rationalised.

He added that “in essence” the pipe would need a robust monitoring regime no matter where it was situated.

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