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Shell in Mayo: A Backgrounder.

Terry | 08.10.2006 23:05 | Rossport Solidarity | Ecology | Globalisation | Social Struggles | World

Erris is a remote wild corner of Ireland’s western Atlantic coastline.
Over the last six years a group of corporations, Shell, Statoil, and Marathon, supported by the Irish State, have been attempting to force an unwanted development on the community there. Shell is major player in the group, with the two others owning lesser shares.
They are trying to build a 9 km on land high pressure production gas pipeline and a on land gas refinery to exploit the Corrib gas field, which is in the Atlantic ocean.
They plan to expand the development to exploit more gas and oil fields.
They have been consistently resisted culminating in the shutting down of construction by mass pickets in the summer of 2005.

Health and Safety:

The pipeline and refinery are a threat to the health and safety of the community which is expected to live next to them.

The Pipeline:

The high pressure gas pipeline is to operate at up to144 bar pressure. This is in line with a government commissioned safety study, originally it was to operate at 345 bar pressure. The change was made in response to the protest campaign, but part of the pipeline will continue to operate at 345 bar pressure.
According to the government’s safety study a pipeline at 144 bar pressure, if it ruptured, would have the following impact on houses and people: - any house within 80 metres will be burned; - any house up to 166 metres could be burned; - any person within 57 metres will be killed; - any person up to 203 metres could be killed.
The nearest inhabited houses to the current pipeline route are barely 70 metres away and the public road is 30 metres away. At 345 bar pressure, according to the Health and Safety Authority, fatal effects from a rupture could extend to up to 527 metres away.

The Refinery:

Air Pollution (aka usual environmental hazard):

The refinery, should it be built, will pollute the air with Radon gas, along with oxides of Nitrogen, Methane, Sulphur Dioxide, and the Carbon Dioxide output equivalent to over 10,000 cars every year. All this will be pumped out from nine chimneys, some 140ft high.
At refineries raw gas is sometimes vented off, or flared (burnt out into the air).
A picture of living next door to Shell can be given by people who already do:
"We have huge amounts of people … that are affected with Shell's dumping of tons and tons of toxic chemicals into the air. This has resulted in ... asthma, as well as leukaemia and cancer, which is prevalent, very rife and high … in my neighbourhood fifty two percent [52%] of the educated and learned at a local primary school have got asthma, and the leukaemia rate is twenty four [24] times the norm than anywhere else in South Africa.” - Des D'Sa, (South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, South Africa).

"We see a side of Shell that its board of directors and managers try to hide from the public. The Shell we know recklessly operates an oil refinery across the street from our homes. Every day Shell dumps toxic pollution on our neighbourhood that is damaging our health, especially our children who can't breathe without an inhaler."
- Hilton Kelley, (Community In-power Development Association, Texas, USA).

Risk of Accident (aka unusual environmental hazard):

A massive 3,629 tonnes of methanol will be stored on site in 5 tanks each 35ft. high and 30ft. diameter. This is highly flammable. This site will also store gas condensate and propane in large quantities. Both also highly flammable. Likewise there is a risk of explosion from gas vapour clouds released into the air. The refinery is to be located in a remote and neglected area, with little in the way of emergency services, the nearest accident and emergency hospital unit is over one hour drive away. Most of the land near the refinery site is peat bog, and as such, under right conditions, also flammable.

Natural Environment.

The development is a threat to the natural environment.

Carrowmore Lake:

The refinery adjoins Carrowmore Lake, as does the storage facility where peat removed from the refinery site is to be placed. Polluted water running off the construction site has already contaminated the lake. This is as dobe, the substance underneath peat, is high in aluminium, and construction involves removing thousands of tons of peat.
Carrowmore Lake is a Special Area of Conservation under E.U. regulations, and is also the source of the regional public drinking water supply. The process of stabilising remaining peat will also generate pollutants which will run off into Carrowmore Lake should the project get to that stage. The development adjoins to other Special Areas of Conservation, Glenamoy bog, and Broadhaven bay.

Broadhaven Bay:
Waste from the refinery is to be dumped into Broadhaven bay, with the outflow of the waste pipe only 500 metres from the limits of an E.U. designated Special Area of Conservation. This discharge will contain varying amounts of the following; Chlorides, Sulphates, Bicarbonates of Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron Hydroxide, Calcium Sulphate, Radon, hydrocarbon condensate, Methanol, corrosion inhibitor, well completion muds, scale inhibitor, anti-foam, heating medium, lube oils, descaling fluids, and up to 3 tons of Lead, Nickel and Mercury every year. Other elements to be found include Barium, Boron, Phosphorous, Chromium, Manganese, Copper, Zinc, Arsenic, Selenium and Silver.
The bay has a circular tidal pattern which means none of this gets washed far out to sea but rather stays in the bay. This feature makes the area particularly attractive for oil industry development as it means any spills can be contained within the bay - thus costing less to clean up. The diverse and unique marine life located in the bay is under serious threat. The bay is home to a wide variety of whales, dolphins and porpoises. A number of these, including the harbour porpoise, the common bottlenose, Risso’s, Atlantic white sided and white beaked dolphins and the long finned pilot whale are confirmed to breed in Irish waters. Many others including the blue fin and humpback whale do not breed in the area but migrate annually along the North West Mayo coast. The bay supports a treasure trove of commercially important species of fish and shellfish; mackerel, sole, hake, crab, oysters, cockles and mussels among many others. The protection of the nursery and spawning grounds is vital for the local fishing industry.
Shell claim there is “no evidence that Broadhaven Bay is of particular
importance to whales and dolphins", but a University College of Cork study commissioned by Shell found the opposite. The UCC research team recorded over 220 sightings
of seven whale and dolphin species, plus sightings of two seal species in
Broadhaven Bay and north-west Mayo waters.
The coastal and offshore waters of Broadhaven Bay provide seabirds with a rich source of nutrition. Many seabirds breed on the coast. The offshore seabirds include members of several families, most notably the petrels and shearwaters, gamets, auks, gulls and skuas. The bay supports internationally significant bird concentrations including; great northern divers, barnacle geese, common scoters and retro divers. Bird populations of national importance include; red breasted merganser, sand martins, sanderlings, turnstones, purple sandpiper, stonechats, bar-tailed godwits, to name but a few of the multitude of bird species who inhabit the bay.

No Local Consent.

The Corrib Gas project has no local consent. In a recent opinion poll carried out for TG4 - a national state TV station - 65% of respondents from the entire country of Mayo said they did not want the refinery built in Ballinaboy or the pipeline built through Rossport.
A petition in Glengad, where the on land pipeline starts, was signed by all of thirty households in the area, with only two not signing.
The entire development takes place in the parish of Kilcommon, and the bulk of the local opposition is based there. Kilcommon has a population of 2,000 people from the elderly to babies. 10% of that population has been engaged in daily protests against the project, for weeks on end, of late in the face of a massive police presence and with the threat of arrest.
Who should have the power to decide? Faceless men in offices in Dublin, London, Holland, and Norway, or the people who have live with the consequences?

No Social Benefit.

The Corrib gas project has no social benefit. In 1975 for oil and gas exploitation in Ireland the terms were between 8% to 16% production royalties to the state and a 50% tax rate. In addition there could be an up to 50% state participation in the exploitation of any find, as the
establishment of a state energy company was planned. Moreover gas was sold to state companies at a reduced bulk discount.
Successive governments between 1985 and 1992 whittled this away to a situation where there are no royalties, no state participation, and a 25% tax rate. Furthermore there is a 100% tax write-off meaning multi-nationals can count their production, development and exploration costs as ‘tax’ and hence pay less tax, or even conceivably no tax.
For the ordinary consumer gas prices have just gone up by a third, with an overall 50% increase in two years. We can have no illusion that more state intervention would be automatically beneficial. That would mean more intervention by the same institution which handed the resources over to the corporations in the first place. Saudia Arabia and Nigeria and other energy rich despotisms have a high degree of state participation in oil exploitation already without any social benefit whatsoever. However at least with heavier taxation we could put pressure on the government to spend the gas proceeds on under funded health and education services, with the current neo-liberal set up this is not an option - it all ends up in the pockets of shareholders and directors.
There is no local employment bar some temporary construction work, and there is no shortage of such jobs.

Fossil fuel energy is unsustainable.

Fossil fuel energy has too high a social and environmental cost.
In 1997 Greenpeace International predicted that burning anything over a quarter of the then known fossil fuel reserves would produce dangerous levels of global warming. Since then both fossil fuel usage and interpretations of the scale of the climate chaos problem have increased in intensity.
So has observable climate change and extreme weather conditions, such as the heat wave which claimed 15,000 lives in France in the summer of 2003.
Gas is the best of a bad lot when it comes to fossil fuels, the gas could be used to wean electricity generation off the dirtiest fossil fuels while investment into renewable energy is made. This would be the one of the least worse options for its production from a social and environmental point of view. However what is planned to happen is that it will be sold at market price to whomsoever is buying.
The gas could also be used to develop clean hydrogen fuels for cars, but it will not be.
Electricity generation in Ireland is based for the most part on the dirtiest fossil fuels.
Although 512 megawatts of Electricity Supply Board capacity is through hydro electric, this is dwarfed by fossil fuel production. Around 460 megawatt capacity is from peat - the worst polluter, and the E.S.B. finished two new peat burning power stations in 2005.
915 from coal, not as bad as peat but worse than oil, 860 from oil and 1,286 from a combination of oil and gas, with gas alone coming in at 115 megawatt.
Gas is also used in domestic heating, just as coal was predominant for this in Dublin, until the smog become too much in the late 80s and early 90s. Should we ignore environmental problems, out of sight out of mind, until they are in our face and inescapable?

So we have an unsustainable form of energy production, being developed in a fashion which is a danger to the local population and local environment, a project which has no consent from the community which is to be its neighbour and which gives no benefit to the ordinary working people of Ireland.
The answer to why was given by John Egan, pr man for Shell, in innumerable radio interviews and in glossy adverts Shell have in the national press in response to the campaign.
The Shell to Sea campaign puts forward the compromise solution of refining the gas at sea away from inhabited areas, as has been the standard industry practise.
In response Egan and Shell say “uneconomic”. Companies have to cut corners to produce more dividends to attract more investment. What is most profitable is their goal.
The state is there to facilitate this, as amply demonstrated in this case with several laws changed and a massive police presence introduced to benefit Shell.
Through state and corporate power, conditioned by market forces, we have the local imposition of a hazardous development, the national imposition of the great oil and gas give away, and the international imposition of global warming.
Is this the way you want society organised?, if not support the resistance to Shell in Mayo.

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