Controversy continues to plague the multi-million-dollar gas refinery project in north County Mayo. Tension surrounding the project has heightened considerably since June when five local men — now known as the Rossport Five — were jailed in Cloverhill Prison for obstructing the project. The men have refused to withdraw their opposition to the proposed high-pressure gas pipeline, claiming that Shell E&P Ireland’s plan endangers the health and safety of their families.
Shell intends transporting gas reserves from the Corrib field 50 miles off Mayo’s Atlantic coast to an onshore refinery at Bellanaboy, some seven miles inland. Local groups are strongly opposed to an onshore facility, and the ‘Shell to Sea’ campaign fronted by the Rossport Five has gathered regional and national public support.
Under increased public pressure, Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources Noel Dempsey ordered Shell to dismantle sections of a high-pressure gas pipeline that were constructed without legal authorization. Shell has consent only for “preparatory” work on an onshore pipeline, and when it was revealed that sections of piping were already welded into place, the minister demanded that the pipeline be dismantled until the company received official sanction.
The following day however he gave Shell the all-clear to construct the supply pipeline at sea, adding to widespread fears that the onshore refinery is already a done deal.
“The current license regime was agreed by the Fianna Fáil government and a Fianna Fáil minister and it was Fianna Fáil who controlled Mayo County Council which granted the initial planning permission for the terminal,” said Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who holds a Dáil (parliamentary) seat in the Mayo constituency.
“The real consent at stake is that of the people of Rossport,” commented Dr. Mark Garavan, a spokesman for ‘Shell-to-Sea.’ “And they do not consent to this high-pressure pipeline.”
Werner Blau, a professor of physics at Trinity College Dublin, has come out strongly against the proposed onshore terminal. Prof. Blau suggests that with construction already underway any safety review commissioned by Minister Dempsey would be of no particular benefit. “They are afraid to ask the simple question: How many would die and what extent the damage would be (in the event of pipeline failure)” he told The Irish Times.
In a further twist, Mayo County Council voted 13-9 against ordering Shell to move the refinery offshore. Council lawyer Michael Browne warned an emergency meeting of councilors that compelling Shell to build an alternative facility could leave Mayo County Council exposed to costly litigation ♦