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A report on the first week of the EPA oral hearing on the IPPC licence for the Corrib Gas refinery.

category mayo | environment | news report author Wednesday April 25, 2007 02:49author by Eve - RSC Report this post to the editors

The siting of the refinery at Bellanaboy "defies any rational understanding of the term sustainability" Kevin Moore, Senior Planning Inspector Kevin Moore.

A report on the first week of the EPA's oral hearing on the granting of the IPPC (integrated pollution prevention and control) licence for the Corrib gas refinery at Bellanaboy.
Model of the proposed Corrib Gas refinery at Bellanaboy.
Model of the proposed Corrib Gas refinery at Bellanaboy.

The EPA oral hearing for the granting of the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control licence commenced on Monday the 16th of April in the Broadhaven Bay hotel in Belmullet. The EPA issued a provisional decision to grant the IPPC licence to Shell for their proposed refinery at Bellanaboy Bridge on 26th January 2007 This decision was met with disappointment from Erris residents and community activists who availed of the 28 day 'consultation period' lodging objections to the granting of the license with the EPA and calling for the oral hearing to be convened. Opponents of the Corrib gas project were not the only ones to object to the EPA's proposed decision. Shell also objected to some of the 85 conditions attached to the proposed licence, wanting eight of them to be reworded.

The first week saw the examination of issues around cold venting, flaring, site drainage, air emissions and water emissions with a host of expert witnesses being produced by Shell including Dr Nigel Peters a drainage expert, Agnes Mc Lavery chemical engineer and environmental advisor, and Ian McRae of SEPIL. Submissions against the granting of the licence were put forward by William Walker, a local fisherman, Erris Inshore Fisherman's Association, Leo Corcoran on behalf of an Taisce, Fr Nallan parish priest of Kilcommon, Pat McAndrew local resident and John Healey a local business owner.

In addition to the objectors and public audience the EPA hearing was attended by several plain clothes Gardai as well as uniformed Gardai who manned the doors of the hotel. Several complaints were made during the hearing about the police presence. It was uncertain as to why police were present, the EPA having indicated that they did not request a Garda presence.

From the outset of the oral hearing the mood was one of resignation; the fact that the EPA has never reversed a proposed decision of this nature, the fact that as the hearing went about its business peat was being excavated from the site at Bellanaboy and perhaps the fact that throughout the entire planning process the state has smoothed the way for the oil companies even to the extent of changing laws to suit the project. In 2000 before the oil companies had even applied for planning permission Bertie Ahern announced at the 21st birthday of Bord Gais that a pipeline would be built from Bellanaboy to the loop at Galway rendering the entire planning process a mere series of hoops to be jumped through by the oil companies. Indeed when the planning permission was initially denied to Shell on the basis that the siting of the refinery at Bellanaboy, in the words of senior planning inspector Kevin Moore, "defies any rational understanding of the term sustainability" the then Minister of State for Labour Affairs, Frank Fahey announced that the project had been delayed on "a technicality."

The EPA's record and supposed independence has also been called into question. Director general of the EPA Mary Kelly appeared in an early promotional video for the Corrib gas project in her capacity as a representative of the Irish business lobby IBEC. Controversy arose in 2004 when the Green Party called for the newly appointed director of the EPA, Ms Laura Burke not to take her position on the basis that she had previously worked as a project manager for Indaver Ireland's two incinerator projects, and that her appointment in the words of Tervor Seargent would "utterly compromise the position of the EPA." The body has a poor record for enforcing its own regulations meting out tokenistic fines to polluting corporations. It has repeatly come under criticisms from campaigners and residents groups for acting in the interest of big business and merely providing a veneer of environmental protection. In an article published in the Irish Times a spokesperson from Cork Environmental Alliance described the licensing system as "a complete farce" describing how the EPA sometimes got companies to comply with pollution controls by raising their output limits.

In 1999 the EPA granted a licence to Roache ltd. for a hazardous waste incinerator near Ennis in Co. Clare without having received final design details of the incinerator plan. In July 2005 Cork Harbour residents and environmental groups attacked the EPA after it failed to alert the public that 56,000 gallons of caustic soda had leaked into the sea at the ADM plant in Ringaskiddy while the substance was being unloaded. In May 2003 The Agency was criticised for accepting the quality of drinking water in Kilkenny as satisfactory even though it was found to contain aluminium contaminations more than 100 times the EU limit.

Despite the fact that the granting of the IPPC licence seems like a fait accompli many Erris residents and Shell to Sea campaigners engaged with the process albeit with much frustration. The fact that the decision to grant the licence must be appealed to the very body that granted it was criticised by campaigners as was the fact that much of the information on which the decision to grant the licence came solely from Shell with no independent source. Highlighted too was the difference in resources available to the various parties: Shell, a corporation with an economy bigger than the size of the Irish Republic had a panel of suited experts and senior council on hand to talk Shell's way out of any potentially tricky questions; Shell to Sea campaigners and Erris residents, a mixture of fishermen, retired teachers, housewives and farmers lacking the funds to hire expert academics, relied mostly on their own non-expert research gleaned from six years of self education.

A major submission against the granting of the licence was made by An Taisce and centered on the fact that the refinery is situated in the catchment area of Carrowmore lake which provides a source of drinking water for 10,000 people in the Erris region. The submission was presented by Leo Corcoran, an experienced engineer who has worked for the gas technical standards committee and bord gais. It was Mr Corcoran's contention that the locating of the refinery in the catchment area of a drinking water source was in violation of the relevant code of practice. Mr Corcoran identified the failure of the minister to specify the relevant code of practice to the Corrib pipeline and refinery as a critical issue, stating that no other country in the western world would concider granting consent for such a project without a code of practice. He specified PD8010 as the code which should have been applied and then illustrated how Shell were in violation of that code, which stipulates that engineers must consider water catchment areas when selecting appropriate sites for facilities such as that proposed at Bellanaboy. Mr Corcoran cited Martin Marsden, head of water policy of Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), "SEPA would normally recommend against placing such facilities at locations which could affect public drinking water." Mr Corcoran further questioned the applicant (Shell) under the 'fit persons provision' of the licencing terms citing the corporations global record with particular reference to their high record of fatalities.

The issue of the 'fit persons provision' in the licensing terms was one that the chairman of the hearing, Mr Frank Clinton, seemed touchy about, at an early stage he stated that for the puropse of the provision Shell's activities in other countries would not be considered. Given that Shell have virtually no history in Ireland as a producer with the exception of the Corrib gas project this decision seemed strange. It is expected that nexts week's submissions will deal with the issue of Shells record as a responsible contractor under the fit person provision. A more detailed account of the proceedings will follow as the hearing progresses...

author by Clarepublication date Wed Apr 25, 2007 09:11author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for the update, interesting read.

author by Cathalpublication date Wed Apr 25, 2007 11:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Brilliant article, Thanks Eve

Related Link: http://www.mayogasinfo.com
author by mel-cork - S2Spublication date Wed Apr 25, 2007 11:24author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks Eve for keeping us posted.

author by Jackpublication date Thu Apr 26, 2007 00:14author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The EPA is a totally discredited body. The only thing it protects are the interests of big business.
It rejects the reports of its own inspectors.
Several of its board members have ties to polluting industries.
Just look at its record on monitoring water quality -
It relies on the local authorities to provide it with water samples.
How laughable is that! - Local authorities that have no interest in spending money on
sewage treatment projects.

author by Eoin Ó Broinpublication date Thu Apr 26, 2007 14:59author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Very interesting. Indeed not allowing Shell's record overseas to be included is ridiculas. That has to be overturned. Sure by the same standard Shell shuld not be able to cite any "good" records they have from their operations overseas. Surely they will want to do this? Sounds to me like Mr. Clinton was tipped off not to allow Nigeria to be brought into the discussions and inadvertantly (or not) decided to exclude all overseas activitties. Yes ridiculas...

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