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Gas pipeline safety defended

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

LORNA SIGGINS in Belmullet, Co Mayo

CORRIB GAS project consultants have told an oral hearing of An Bord Pleanála that a modified onshore pipeline route is safe, meets all relevant codes and standards, and selection was open and transparent.

RPS Consulting Engineers technical director Ciarán Butler told the first day of the bilingual oral hearing in Belmullet, Co Mayo, that the proposed route achieves “the optimum balance of community, environmental and technical criteria” developed by the consultants.

However, the hearing heard confirmation that the Health and Safety Authority has no remit in the pipeline’s safety. The agency informed the appeals board that off-site gas pipelines are not controlled by the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 2006.

Two objectors, landowners Bríd McGarry and Brendan Philbin of the “Rossport Five” group, also withdrew from the hearing after local residents sought unsuccessfully to clarify the jurisdiction of An Bord Pleanála in relation to the pipeline.

Michéal Ó Seighin, who was one of the men also imprisoned with Mr Philbin in 2005 over opposition to the original pipeline route, said clarification was important.

The appeals board, as an independent body, would be deciding whether people lose their land to the pipeline in a few months’ time, he said. Environmental consultant Peter Sweetman requested that one member of the inspection team from An Bord Pleanála hearing submissions should absent himself due to conflict of interest.

An Bord Pleanála presiding inspector Martin Nolan is hearing Shell EP Ireland’s revised onshore pipeline route application, and a separate application for compulsory acquisition orders to land on the route, under the Strategic Infrastructure Act.

His supporting team includes An Bord Pleanála senior inspector Stephen O’Sullivan, pipeline expert Nigel Wright and geotechnical engineering expert Conor O’Donnell. The new route, identified by RPS, acting as consultants for Shell, runs a minimum 140 metres from occupied housing, according to Shell – twice the minimum separation distance of 70 metres from housing in the original pipeline route.

The route runs through special areas of conservation as protected under the EU habitats directive. It arose as a result of a recommendation by Government mediator Peter Cassells in 2006.

Describing the selection procedure for the 9.2km high pressure pipeline route from the landfall at Glengad to the gas refinery at Bellanaboy, RPS engineering expert Ciarán Butler said it included a more complex landfall valve installation at the shoreline at Glengad.

This was because a “fail safe” isolation valve had been designed to comply with the relevant codes and standards, as part of a commitment to reduce pressure in the pipeline to 144 bar.

The hearing is one of the last stages in the series of statutory approvals sought for the project. Shell EP Ireland is currently preparing to proceed with laying the offshore pipeline in advance of onshore approval, but has not secured agreement with fishermen who staged a peaceful protest at Ballyglass pier last night.

Witnesses at the hearing will include a number of Government departments and agencies. Local residents and groupings opposed to the routing include An Taisce, the Rossport Solidarity Camp, and Erris community groups Pobal Chill Chomáin and Pobal Le Chéile.

Pobal Chill Chomáin has successfully sought the intervention of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development due to alleged breaches of guidelines. Pro-Gas Mayo, Chambers Ireland, the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association, Goodbody Economic Consultants and the Council for the West have made submissions in favour.

The hearing continues today.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

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