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Irish President Michael D Higgins and author Lorna Siggins at the launch of “Once Upon A Time in the West: The Corrib Gas Controversy.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

By John Donovan

Michael Crothers, a Shell veteran, has recently taken over as the new managing director of the Corrib Gas Project in Ireland, a project mired in controversy.

The welcome he has received from the Petroleum Affairs Division of the Irish environmental agency responsible for Energy and Natural Resources, cannot be described as warm. A written warning issued to Shell on 22 December, threatened a “cessation of works” following breaches of conditions attached to pipeline construction, granted on 25 February 2010.

In a letter dated 22 December 2011 addressed to Mr Crothers, the department notified Shell E & P Ireland (SEPIL) of a breach of the conditions governing the construction of the Corrib Gas Pipeline. The breach of Condition 2 resulted in untreated water being discharged from the Aghoose site via the natural drainage channel, contrary to the requirements of the Environmental Management Plan. Continual assessment of the works at the Aghoose compound by independent consultants also identified an ongoing breach of Condition 20 of the consent to construct.

The letter also complained about the “considerable delay” in bringing the matter to the attention of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR), leading to a delay in the government consultants Environcorp, and its independent advisers, being able to consider the implications.

Detailed information was supplied with the warning letter, which also said that the incident had highlighted procedural concerns. The letter demanded that “any environmental incident, whether identified by SEPIL, or during inspections by third parties, must be reported immediately to DCENR.”

An attached ENVIRON report recommended: “In addition to the corrective actions being implemented by SEPIL, we further recommend that SEPIL reviews their management control and training procedures to ensure that similar failures of procedure do not re-occur.

The cover letter went on to warn:

Should there be future incidents of continuing non-compliance, or material incidents resulting in significant environmental impact in breach of the conditions of consent and EMP commitments, the Department will consider measures up to and including requiring the cessation of works until such time as compliance with the statutory permissions can be demonstrated.”

Probably because of the reported death threats against Shell Corrib Project whistleblowers, who have previously supplied information to us, including Shell documents, our source for this story does not want to be identified.

American government officials hoping that Shell lives up to its pledges in respect of drilling in the Arctic Ocean are unlikely to be impressed with the latest developments on the environmentally sensitive Corrib Gas Project.

Although not major incidents, compared for example with the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster, the environmental impact was significant.

Under the circumstances, the non compliance, incompetence, and delay in notifying the environmental authority (which some might perceive as an attempted cover-up), do not exactly inspire confidence in pledges given by Royal Dutch Shell.

Letter to Shell dated 22 December 2011 and attached ENVIRON report (10 pages in all)

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