Dáil debates

Thursday, 2 June 2005

Adjournment Debate.

Natural Gas Grid.

5:00 pm

Jerry Cowley (Mayo, Independent)
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I am very grateful to the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this very important matter on the Adjournment. The people of Erris are extremely frightened because a high pressure pipeline is being forced upon them with no independent assessment of the risks. This pipeline will pass by their doors. I ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to immediately call a halt to this project, to defer giving permission to Shell to proceed and to insist on the construction of an off-shore terminal for the sake of the residents and the economic benefit of the area.

Only today we hear that Sruwaddacon Bay is contaminated with black peat as a direct result of the preparation works at Bellanaboy for the in-shore terminal. Some 450,000 cu m of peat from the bog there is being transported to a Bord na Móna deposition site at Shramore, 11 km away. Already, the 800 truck movements per day have resulted in several trucks leaving the road and a local grotto has been damaged by the truck movements. Two days ago, the North Western Fisheries Board manager, Vincent Roche, warned that he would take legal action if discharges of silt into the Bellanaboy river continues. This river is a tributary of the Carramore lake, which supplies water to the entire region.

This threat has been well flagged in the planning stage and the settlement pond system intended to prevent the silt from escaping is not working. On page 56 of the report by An Bord Pleanála, it is stated that if the settlement pond system did not work, Carramore Lake, the main water supply for the region, would be turned into a giant settlement pond.

I have repeatedly queried in the Dáil the independence of the risk assessments that have been carried out on the terminal pipeline. The so-called independent curae or qualitative risk assessment was carried out in 2001 by J. P. Kenny on behalf of the original developer, Enterprise Energy Ireland. Mr. Kenny had worked on the original design brief on the pipeline. Mr. Andrew Johnson's subsequent study was a desk study based on this already flawed information. The biggest blow, however, was that the so-called independent consultant hired earlier this year by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to review the safety of the pipeline was far from independent. The company in question, British Pipeline Agency, is jointly owned by BP and Shell UK, the companies that put forward the project. Why was the Minister not aware of this information, which is available on the Internet? This company was founded in 1969 as a joint venture between BP Oil UK and Shell UK.

One local resident who is familiar with fire hydrants says the ten bar pressure produced by a fire hydrant would pin a man against a wall at 50 yards, yet the pipeline is designed for 345 bar pressure — it will be 150 bar pressure initially. This man and his family must live beside this pipeline and he is very frightened by this prospect.

I asked the Minister to release the curae earlier this year and I am glad he did so. However, the local people are very afraid for their health and safety. I said I would not live beside such a pipeline and I asked the Minister whether he would, but I did not get an answer. It is clear that nobody would live beside such a pipeline.

The oil companies say they will not opt for an off-shore platform for economic reasons and to protect the health and safety of the people working there. However, they can write off the cost of their off-shore platform under the very generous 1992 tax deals done by the Government.

Regarding health and safety matters, those who work on the rig choose to do so, but the people of the Erris area do not have a choice. They have to live beside this pipeline, a project which is being imposed on them and will do very little for the area. Very few jobs have been created and in many case, the jobs have been taken by people outside the area. The Minister should realise that the health and safety of the people are his responsibility and he should honour his responsibility by putting the health and safety of the people first. He should not collude in the pollution of the entire area, which is happening. The water supply to an entire region is being threatened. I appeal to the Minister to act now and to refuse all consents to Shell. He must insist on an offshore terminal or leave the gas there until such time as there is something in it for Mayo. At present, all Mayo gets from it is serious risk to the residents, whose lives are in peril, and the pollution of the area.

I urge the Minister to stop this pipeline and refuse to give consents. There must be an offshore terminal for the sake of the area.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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In the unavoidable absence of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, I will update the House on the review of the Corrib gas field developers' quantified risk assessment, QRA, for the onshore pipeline.

The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources awarded the contract after a tendering process. Tenders for the QRA review were invited from four companies with the requisite competencies. One declined because it had worked on the Corrib gas field project previously. Two others declined, due to the unavailability of the consultant during the timeframe within which the work to be carried out was scheduled. The contract was awarded to British Pipeline Agency Ltd., BPA, which was the only company to submit an offer of tender. BP Ireland UK Ltd. and Shell UK Oil Ltd jointly own BPA. BPA is defined as a subsidiary undertaking of BPLC. The tender was received on 4 April 2005 and a draft contract issued to BPA on 6 April 2005.

At no stage in any discussions with the Department did BPA raise the issue of any potential conflict of interest in carrying out this review. Notwithstanding that BP Oil UK Ltd. and Shell UK Oil Ltd. own the company jointly, BPA remains of the view there is no conflict of interest and states:

BPA is a leading UK specialist in the onshore oil and gas pipeline sector, managing pipeline and terminal assets, and providing related technical consulting services to a wide range of companies worldwide.

All work undertaken by BPA is treated as client confidential whether acting for a single client company or a consortia, and the ability to maintain client confidentiality is critical to BPA's continuing business success.

In this instance BPA were "peer reviewing" technical work undertaken by another pipeline consultant for Shell, against accepted industry codes and standards.

The Minister accepts fully that BPA has completed the review in a fully professional and objective manner. However, he remains conscious that the association of Shell UK Oil Ltd. with BPA by means of its 50% ownership of the company will raise questions as to the complete independence of the QRA review process. In the interest of ensuring confidence in the independence of the process of evaluation of the safety aspects of the pipeline as addressed by the QRA version F and considering the public concerns and sensitivities on this issue, the Minister has now initiated a further review of the QRA.

With regard to the Corrib gas field terminal, I do not agree that the only option available in the interest of the health and safety of the Erris residents is an offshore terminal. I am satisfied the Department has given every consideration to relevant aspects of recommending the placing of the terminal onshore. In any case, there is no question of withdrawing any approvals already given.