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Polluted water is currently running off what was the construction site for Shell’s refinery in North-West Mayo, a site which is currently disused due to its closure by pickets; pickets that have continued from July 2005 right up till today.
The position taken by the County Council in regard to the dangers of this fluctuates according to whether or not they can claim, with any degree of plausibility, that Shell to Sea protestors are responsible for this problem (as opposed to the companies trying to build the refinery!), as continual control over access to the site must be exercised by picketers, lest Shell use this as a Trojan horse to re-start construction work.
Interview with Terence Conway, Erris Shell to Sea activist, March 15th 2006.
IMC: Terence you might start off by telling us how the whole saga of axionics and the run off of polluted water began last summer?
Basically when we stopped Shell from building their refinery after they locked up the men, they looked very bad in the media, they realised they had a problem with the aluminium in the sub-soil and that that would run off into Carrowmore Lake, so they started, through the media, asking us to allow them in on site to install the axionics equipment a system for removing the aluminium from the water. But in actual fact we never stopped them from this, we wanted them to install this equipment, but what they actually wanted was full access to the site to continue building the refinery.
At least every Friday Mark Carrigy [Project Manager for Shell] would be on Mid-West radio talking about how concerned Shell were about the danger of pollution.
IMC: So could you tell us a little about how the Shell to Sea monitoring of what is going on in the Ballinaboy site works exactly?
We go in almost daily onto the site, the conditions that Shell were allowed back on site was that we go in to monitor what they were doing, cause we didn’t trust the council, the EPA, the fisheries, or anyone else, because they were backing up Shell’s lies all along. If Shell told a lie, they backed them up, the project monitoring committee, council, fisheries, the whole lot.
IMC: The monitors are people with safe passes…
Yes and safety gear hi-vis vest, helmets, boots…
IMC: And that’s because of health and safety legislation?
IMC: And the monitoring is there firstly to make sure they do the work in regard to water treatment, and secondly that they don’t do any other work?
That is correct yes.
IMC: So could you tell us what exactly happened today, Wednesday, March 15th?
Well it goes back to a few weeks ago, we went to the council offices and the council had been saying they were taking daily samples of the water and getting it tested so two of us went into the council offices and checked their records and Mayo County Council’s own records proved that consistently since the beginning of November the lake has been being polluted with massive amounts of aluminium going off the site into the lake. But the council still maintained everything was o.k.. So today, because there was nothing being done, council was doing nothing, the axionics, from what we had seen of it, being observers on site everyday, hadn’t a hope of solving the problem. A few days ago we went to Shell with a list of questions and there is no sign of them answering, so two of our members went in this morning and refused to come out until we got answers. They had no sign of getting us the answers we requested about the water, so after lunch about thirty of us went on to the site to help to wake them up and get them to do something. That seemed to set some wheels in motion and there was a lot of running about by Shell personnel and Roadbridge personnel. So I was on site this afternoon as well, with a video camera and I decided I wasn’t leaving the site until I spoke to someone on camera about the situation. Three times today we were up at the administration huts, they had the doors locked, the windows shut, and the curtains pulled, we were just standing their talking and basically saying we weren’t going to move until we got somebody to talk to us so Martin McDermott the guy in charge of the operation for Roadbridge eventually came up to us and talked to us he said as far as he was concerned the run off from the site was o.k. so we showed him the County Council’s own records.
IMC: So Terence there was another film made earlier by the Shell to Sea monitors on the site demonstrating that the axionics system isn’t working to the extent that it should be and that aluminium is going into Carrowmore Lake, and that film is being shown locally, do you think it is making an impact on people?
Locally it is, because I’ve met a few people out and about, not involved with the campaign, and I know a lot of people have stopped drinking the water, and I understand, I’m not sure, but I understand that a good lot of people have been on to Mayo County Council about the problem.
IMC: And what’s Mayo County Council saying about this again, they are saying it is going fine?
Mayo County Council states that on average the content of the water in Carrowmore Lake is fine, but the didn’t explain what they mean by average do they mean that over the course of months or years that it is fine. We havn’t seen the results of any samples of the water after it leaves treatment in Bar na Tra, the council’s own treatment.
IMC: And the same thing was happening on site, they were not testing the water they were treating?
They are supposed to not release any treated water until it is tested and the results come back but as can be seen on the video we took today on site, it is running straight off the site, it is not even running into a pond just straight back onto the site.
IMC: So today in your film the Roadbridge manager was making the issue that their were people from Shell to Sea on the site without safe passes and so forth but Shell had people on the site also without safe passes, could you tell us a bit about that.
Approximately two weeks ago Shell brought some local people on to the site, I understand, to show them the axionics equipment and try to convince them that it was operating and it was a very good system but one of them stopped me on the road last Saturday evening and he said it was joke, as far as he was concerned it was more or less a toy. Because as far as this man was concerned it wasn’t capable of handling the amount of water and for anybody to walk on the site, see the situation there, it’s obvious that the axionics equipment there could not deal with the amount of water. My best guess is that it would take at least ten more of them to handle that amount of water.
IMC: So basically, just to clear it up for our readers, what’s happening, if I’m correct, is that it is raining a lot, the rain is picking up the aluminium from the soil, some of it is being treated, a lot isn’t, the water that is being treated is not checked if it is being treated correctly and it is all running into Carrowmore Lake.
IMC: How much of the area gets its water supply from Carrowmore Lake?
Most of Erris and Erris is approximately the size of County Louth.
IMC: There was quite a downpour last Monday, so there is a lot of water on the site currently, how long will it take the axionics to treat that?
On Monday myself and John Monaghan went on site, we measured all the ponds, the two settlement lagoons, the amount of water in each of them, and we calculated how long it would take the axionics to treat all the water, and with the axionics running at peak performance, 24 hours a day, to treat the amount of water presently on site it would take them until next August, to get all the water on site at the moment treated.