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Shell Corrib Gas Project Impact on Erris Fisherman

Raining Stones on Erris Fishermen

By Michael McCaughan

Irish fishermen have suffered one blow after another in recent years and July 2009 was no exception when Bord Snip proposed the elimination of Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), the Fisheries Board responsible for the development of a sector which employs 11,000 people in coastal areas and recorded €731 million sales last year. The Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF) warned the government not to “walk away from the development of the seafood industry or coastal areas” and the “massive socio-economic and political consequences”.

For the fishermen of Erris however, the situation is even more critical as Shell, aided by the Government, appear determined to push through the Corrib Gas project regardless of the grave risk to coastal areas and the people living there. In the past month Shell’s aggressive pipelaying programme has put 15 jobs at risk as boats and crew were forced out of the sea while on land, shellfish factory workers were left without their product. With just 50 jobs on offer when the project is completed and a gas supply entirely in the hands of Shell, the only long term prospect may be irreversible damage to the environment. “Everyone talks about the jobs and the construction phase of the project’ said Eddie Divers of the Erris Inshore Fishermen (EIF) “but we’re worried about the next twenty five years”.

When the gas starts flowing, so do the pollutants which must be dumped somewhere along the Erris peninsula. The first plan was to dump this chemical cocktail into Carrowmore Lake, source of local drinking water. Community pressure forced Shell to amend that plan and send untreated waste back to the wellhead while ‘runoff’ water will be dumped into Broadhaven Bay, less than one nautical mile from Erris Hd. Divers is confident that his organization can take an injunction and halt the flow of gas at the first sign of contaminants;. “We got a legal agreement, drawn up by our solicitors, not by Shell, we have been assured that no gas will flow if we take action.’

If Shell was a company known for its integrity and commitment to safety standards, then this guarantee might be the basis for mutual understanding. The problem however is that Shell’s track record around the world shows that it has consistently ignored safety and health laws wherever it goes and that violence will be used wherever necessary to ensure the smooth flow of oil and gas. A diesel leak at Bellanaboy was denied and then covered up while illegal drilling on an SAC was dismissed as a trivial oversight. The people of Erris have got a taste of Shell’s operating style in recent months as Willie Corduff suffered a beating and Pat O’Donnell’s boat was sunk. Anyone who takes the time to check out Shell’s operating record worldwide will find that Corduff and O’Donnell were treated with relatively good manners compared to the Nigerian people, nine of whom were hanged for resisting Shell’s deadly oil project in their homeland. Shell recently paid out millions of dollars in compensation to the murdered men’s families.

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