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Dublin Opinion >>
Review of the Corrib Gas Project Oral Hearing
Saturday December 18, 2010 23:27 by Rudiger - RSC
Review of An Bord Pleanala oral hearing - August 2010
The struggle continues
In the next few weeks, more than likely An Bord Pleanála will be announcing their decision on whether to grant permission to Shell to build the onshore section of the Corrib Gas pipeline. Below is a review of the reopened oral hearing that ran from the 24th of August until the 1st of October in 2010 in Belmullet. Again (this is the fourth convening of an oral hearing), opponents of the Corrib Gas Project made lengthy and comprehensive submissions on why they are opposed to the project. A fair few of these submissions can be read in full here: http://www.shelltosea.com/content/submissions-bord-pleanala
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Shell oil company
Following the 2009 oral hearing in a letter to Shell dated 2nd November 2009 An Bord Pleanala (ABP) found that Shell had failed to prove that 2/3rds of the proposed pipeline through Rossport was safe. However instead of rejecting the application outright, ABP suggested that Shell should look at laying their pipeline up Sruwaddacon Estuary (Shell had previously rejected this route on environmental and technical grounds). In my opinion, the whole process of the oral hearing was undermined by ABP stating in their Nov 2nd letter that “Having regard to the foregoing and to the strategic national importance and current status of the entire Corrib Gas Field development, and as it is provisionally the view of the Board that it would be appropriate to approve the proposed onshore pipeline development should alterations be made to the proposed development”. Also because ABP suggested that Shell go up Sruwaddacon Estuary with the pipe, it had now turned from a supposedly independent body into a co-designer of this experimental project.
This basic point was made with various degrees of directness by a lot of the objectors. Bríd McGarry in her brief submission to the oral hearing stated “you cannot be a game-keeper and a poacher in your own court” while Ed Moran made clear that “it’s the background situation that concerns us most”. Brendan Philbin called the oral hearing a “whole shambolic affair”.
For me the defining moment of the oral hearing was when ABP pipeline consultant Nigel Wright was questioning Shell’s technical experts on their decision to continue with their plan of having a Landfall Valve Instalation (LVI) to at Glengad. The LVI was supposed to limit the onshore pressure to under 100bar in the previous application. But if Shell are to believed (which they aren't by alot of people) that they can now better control the offshore pressure, the LVI seems to introduce more risk into the project as it adds complexity and risk of failure.
Mr Wright was basically asking Shell why they wouldn’t just have one straight pipeline running at a max of 105 bar pressure rather than the 2 distinct pipelines – offshore and onshore - separated by the LVI running a max of 150 and 100 bar pressure respectively. The Shell technical team were under considerable pressure to justify their design and to explain why they hadn’t fulfilled ABP’s Nov 2nd request to model different configurations of a straight pipeline at Glengad. However, just when it seemed that a fatal flaw in the project was to be thrashed out, the ABP planning inspector Martin Nolan jumped in and spoke for about 5 minutes, had a brief word off-mic with Mr Wright and then Mr Wright continued his questioning. However the momentum of the questioning had been broken and the pressure on the Shell team had been lifted. To me this moment illustrated ABP’s hidden agenda with this oral hearing - ultimately Martin Nolan didn’t really want to find anything wrong with the project and so didn’t want to look very hard.
Atmosphere of the oral hearing
The general situation when objectors were asking questions of Shell was that the Shell team would first look at chairperson Martin Nolan to see if he would allow the question through, or else rephrase the question. On quite a few mornings, Martin Nolan started the proceedings by apologising for being so tough on someone the day before, but ultimately he’d be back interrupting questioners within minutes. It was sometimes very difficult to sit and watch him interrupt, insult or patronise local people in a forum which is supposed to be one of the very few forums where they get to have their say. For example, one of the first submissions of the oral hearing was Dave Dendy’s submission. It can be viewed here [http://www.shelltosea.com/content/submission-dave-dendy...aring] and is only 4 pages long, yet Martin Nolan wouldn’t allow him to finish it as he didn’t find it relevant. No doubt his task of chairing this oral hearing was a very tough job, however in contrast to his chairing of last years oral hearing, he put people under a lot of pressure both in terms of time and in speaking in a language that people are unused to using. See here Michael McCaughan's submission entitled “Now you speaking my kind of language” [http://www.shelltosea.com/content/now-you-are-talking-m...guage]. It seemed to me that Martin Nolan was under fairly different instructions this year as to last year.
Overall this oral hearing while in some ways very frustrating was also again inspiring as a showcase of the amazing work, effort and commitment that people from the area have put into opposing the project. The oral hearing was originally due to run for 3 weeks but with the amount, quality and length of submission and in particular questions to the Shell experts, it ended up running for over 5 weeks. The presence of most of the big wigs from Shell Ireland for a considerable amount of oral hearing along with the drafting in of some senior people from Shell Europe to act as expert witnesses(such as Michil Jansen, head of Shell pipelines in Europe) indicates how seriously Shell were taking this oral hearing. This is in contrast to last year’s oral hearing years where the likes of head of Shell Ireland Terry Nolan were nowhere to be seen. In this oral hearing, various local Shell subcontractors such as Pat Cowman of Belcross Engineering and Brendan Hegarty of Hegarty Electrical were noticeable for their attendance at the oral hearing. It was without a doubt a new policy by Shell to try to alter the fact that the oral hearings have always been predominately filled by people opposing the project and so other people who are sub-contractors of Shell were either paid or encouraged to attend.
Revealed in this years oral hearing
The oral hearing has always been the clearest way to get some kind of answers from Shell that normally they won’t answer at all, and this oral hearing was no different. In this oral hearing we got as near to an admission as has been received to date that Shell plan to have plenty more gas fields feeding into Bellanaboy if they can get away with it. Deputy Project Director Gerry Costello would only say under questioning that any future hooking up of other gas field would have to be dealt with by the regulatory authorities at such time. However he did admit under questioning that they have currently laid out at the subsea manifold an extra connector in order to hook up future fields. In their evidence on the production rates, Shell have shown that their supposedly necessary rate of production of 350 million standard cubic feet a day will only be maintained at the given pressures for about 3 years if it’s only gas from Corrib.
Some other points that were revealed during the oral hearing were:
- Although the LVI at Glengad has been deemed by Shell to be the most dangerous part of the whole project, they haven’t investigated the possibility of removing the LVI totally despite being asked by Bord Pleanala to investigate this very scenario.
- Shell deem that due to the thickness of the pipe that a full-bore rupture of the pipeline is a non-credible event, and thus wasn’t modelled. This even despite the fact that a paper by one of the Shell pipeline experts present at the hearing was produced which said that a rupture in a thick wall pipeline could happen.
- 273 metres from the pipeline is called the “escape distance”. Dr Phil Crosswaite stated that “beyond that 273 metre distance people are safe”.
- Under cross examination from objectors, Shell admitted that in the event of an ignited failure some people living within the kill-zone for exposed individuals would have to move towards the blaze to reach the shelter of their homes despite assuming in their model that everyone would move away from the heat to find shelter
- Shell plan to tunnel under Sruwaddacon estuary for 4.9km, to create one of the longest tunnels in Europe. The tunnel would include a railway system and will take 15 months of tunnelling 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to construct if allowed. The tunnel would be 4.2m wide, all for a pipe that is just 26 inches in diameter (using les than 3% of the tunnel). This is in an area that has been designated as a special area of conservation and specially protected area.
- Shell calculated that they would need over 58,000 truck movements to lay the pipeline, which is more than last years application despite the fact that the amount of truck movements was one of the reasons why the application was turned down last year.
- It will take 19 hours to flush the offshore pipeline of gas in the event of a leak while it would take 3 & ½ hours to flush the onshore pipeline.
The protestors aren't too bad after all
A funny aspect of the oral hearing was how Shell sought to downplay any threat from objectors when third party interference (sabotage) to the pipeline and LVI was discussed. Gerry Costello was most generous in his description on how the protesters that he was aware of were non-violent and wouldn’t put lives in danger and didn’t view that there was any threat of interference to the Shell sites once gas was flowing. It’s strange because this contrasts greatly with the view put out by pro-Shell journalists such as Paul Williams and Peter Murtagh, that the deranged protestors are a threat to just about everything in the world. You actually had the situation of Shell trying to downplay the words of ex-Chief Superintendent Tony McNamara, saying that he had made some quoted comments in the immediate aftermath of a specific incident [ie. the night that Willie Corduff was beaten up].
Forget the past, Move on
There were many points which caused conflict during the course of the oral hearing. Chief among them was Martin Nolan’s insistence that “we’re not looking at the history of the project”. This was made in reply to Diane Taylor who told how the previous traffic management plans had failed and how she had been forced to reverse down a hill so as to give way to a Shell truck as there was large sections of the road where a truck and car wouldn’t be able to pass. I would contend that the historical behaviour of Shell, their subcontractors and security (IRMS) towards the people of the area is very relevant to any application that Shell make in the area.
Compulsory Acquisition Orders
For the current pipeline route, Shell are also seeking Compulsory Acquisition Orders (CAOs) on the land of 7 landowners (down from about 100 for the 2009 application), through which to run their pipeline. Three of these landowners had sent in objections to Bord Plenala and two of those were represented by barrister Leo Mulrooney at the oral hearing. Mr Mulrooney’s submission, in my opinion, articulated the points which have struck a chord with so many people up and down the country, and which led to the widespread support for the Rossport 5 when they were jailed.
Mr Mulrooney started by asking the Shell team some questions. First, whether any royalties were to be paid by Shell to State for this gas? This was answered as being irrelevant by Esmond Keane. When asked if Shell was obliged to sell the refined gas back to the State, Esmond Keane responded that (a) it was not relevant and (b) would be contrary to European law for the State to put such an obligation in place. Questions on the taxation that might accrue from the gas were deemed outside the remit of the hearing by Martin Nolan. (On a side note, former head of Enterprise Oil who initially owed Corrib, said recently that he now expects no tax to be paid to the State from Corrib Gas).
Under questioning Shell told the oral hearing that the land that they sought to compulsorily acquire would be fenced off. They then told the hearing how agreement would be reached between liaison officers and the landowners as to access across the land if required.
Mr Mulrooney stated that these orders being sought are unprecedented in the state, where land is being forced to be handed over to private companies “all in the name of profit”. He quoted from US Supreme court judge Day O Connor who stated “The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory... Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power...the government now has licence to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more”.
Mr Mulrooney stated that in line with the Constitution if a private individual is coerced into selling their land, it is a bitter pill to swallow. However usually it could give the landowner some solace to think that the taking away of their land is in the common good. However, he stated that in this case Shell have not proved at all that this project was in the common good, with the only monetary benefit to the State in the form of taxation once all the deductions are made. He also said that it was conceivable that no tax would be payable to the State. Mr Mulrooney stated that in order to grant the CAOs that Bord Pleanala needed to be satisfied that this pipeline and its location were in the common good. See an indymedia report from the day here: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/97650
Supporters of the project
Despite most of the submissions to the oral hearing being made by people who oppose the Corrib Gas project, there were a few from people who support it. Most of these people were either sub-contractors or from employer or business groups, however the submission that angered opponents of the project the most was probably from Fr Kevin Hegarty. Fr Hegarty gave 3 reasons for his support of Corrib, (a) Shell had sought to comply with the law (b) the company had shown willingness to be a good neighbour and (c) the security of supply and strategic importance to Ireland of this gas. He also stated that he believed Shell were committed to the environment. However I believe that it was the nastiness of the other points of his submission that angered people the most. He stated: “I know there are sincere people among the protestors. I believe, however, their fears about the safety of the pipeline have been grossly inflated by the sulphurous rhetoric of those who wish to prevent the delivery of the gas on ideological grounds”.
If you contrast this to the local parish priest Fr Michael Nallen, while his submission was strongly against the project as it is currently proposed, he didn’t insult or seek to demean anyone.
The whole issue of bribery reared its head a number of times during the oral hearing, with initially Esmond Keane challenging anyone who suggested that Shell had sought to bribe sections of the local community. However, local parish priest Fr. Michael Nallen stated that it was difficult to say that no-one had been bribed. Fr Nallen gave examples of fishermen being compensated, elderly people getting help from Shell that wasn’t sought such as walls being painted, putting cap stones on pillars and giving out various appliances such as toasters (presumably all to written off against tax as a development cost).
Tom McAndrew, a former Dept of Education physiologist, was also deeply critical of Shell’s policy of giving money to select schools, stating that “it was wrong of Shell to use schools and school children as part of their public relations campaign”. See an article on this here: http://www.shelltosea.com/content/shell-criticised-over...hools
The oral hearing also clearly illustrated the craven attitude that all the State institutions have towards Shell. Probably the most pathetic performance was the National Park & Wildlife Service (NPWS), who basically just refused to answer any of the considerable amounts of ecological questions that were asked by people from the community. It also turned out that the consultants that the Dept of Energy & Natural Resources (DCENR) had employed to review Shell application, Entec were owned by Amec, which were involved in the design of the Bellanaboy terminal for Shell. Needless to say they didn’t have any tough questions to ask the Shell team.
Although it wasn’t allowed to be discussed much in this oral hearing, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a considerable amount of future developments being planned for the existing Corrib infrastructure. The most obvious illustration of this is that Shell have currently installed an extra connector to the subsea manifold suitable for hooking in future gas finds. Another telltale sign is that Shell say they have designed the pipeline to operate for 30 years but claim that there will be gas coming from Corrib for 15 to 20 years. However any questions on these aspects of the development were ruled as outside the remit of oral hearing. Under questioning from John Monaghan as to whether the MAOP’s are fixed for the life of the pipeline, Shell answered only that “that’s the proposal before the Board”. However in their closing submission Shell requested that the Board only deal with issues regarding the construction of the pipeline and to leave the operation of the pipeline to other regulators.
This review is definitely not a full account of the oral hearing and I have left out most of the considerable environmental and legal issues that were raised. These issues could well be vital in further delaying the Corrib project. Some of these issues are; whether Shell had the legal authority to lay the first 83 metres of onshore pipeline before getting planning permission; whether is was acceptable than Shell kept bringing in large volumes of new information to the oral hearing; whether the special area of conservation in Glengad can really be called a “machair”.
I don’t want to indicate that one submission was more important or damning to Shell than another as overall the combined power of all the submissions should lead to automatic dismissal of the application. However I do want to mention two. First of all, it was great to see An Taisce and in particaluar Attracta Uí Bhroin put in such strong and damning submissions to the Board [These submission can be read here: http://www.shelltosea.com/content/submissions-bord-pleanala]. Also it was amazing to see 92 year old Des Branigan give his submissions. He spoke how of he had worked in shipping for 60 years and how it appalled him to see Ireland give away its resources.
One of the best moments of the oral hearing was when Shell were asked if this time they would treat non-consenting landowners differently than how they had treated the Rossport 5. Esmond Keane declared that this time “there is no indication that any of the landowners will engage in breaking the law”. To which a shout came from the back of the room from one of the landowners: “Yes, there is!”.
For me however, the highlight of the oral hearing was that it brought together again most of the people who have defied Shell and the State for the last 10 years. The hearing showcased the incredible amount of knowledge and skills that the local community has gained not just regarding this pipeline but also the ways that Ireland has been subverted and corrupted by its modern attitude to developers, multinationals and big business.
I remember walking into the hotel lobby and hearing Winifred Macklin playing “The West’s Awake” on the hotel piano with a lot of the local campaigners standing around discussing and strategising how next they could score a point against Shell in this round of the fight.
These people are truly inspiring.
Shell Director John Egan at this years oral hearing