AN Bord Pleanála’s four-page ruling is, in effect, a fundamental rejection of the Corrib Pipeline application. For diplomatic reasons it is couched in convoluted wording (eg three counteracting negatives in one key sentence) which needs close reading. By acknowledging that the project is part of the government’s strategic energy policy, it avoids an outright refusal and opens a back door instead for what should be a new, ab initio, application.
My reasons for saying this are twofold, as reflected by the two distinct stages of the ruling. The first stage, short and stark, is less than a page but is damning in its three major conclusions.
Firstly, the ‘design documentation’ and ‘risk assessment’ are both so seriously defective that they fail to ‘present a complete, transparent and adequate demonstration that the pipeline does not pose an unacceptable risk to the public’. No more damning indictment of the application could be made – nor could it have been expressed more gently.
Secondly, the crucial and controversial five km Rossport section is stated to have ‘a proximity distance from dwellings which is within the hazard range of the pipeline should a failure occur’. In blunt words that means that people exposed within that range would most certainly be killed or very seriously injured – a cruel truth is made to sound almost acceptable.
Thirdly, it further states that a key section ‘of the route of the pipeline … has been omitted from the application’. This issue brought the oral hearing to a standstill on its first day of sitting as An Bord Pleanála refused to acknowledge its jurisdiction over that section. So this admission has far more significance than appears on the surface.
Any one of the above grounds would be sufficient in itself to warrant an outright refusal. Instead a back-door for avoiding having to make a new, ab initio application is offered to Shell E&P Ireland (SEPIL).
National TV and radio reports have given the slant that ‘permission has been given in principle’ subject to necessary amendments. This is blatant PR ‘spin’. The document states: that in view of ‘the strategic national importance etc : ‘it is provisionally the view of the Board that it would be appropriate to approve the onshore pipeline development’. In plain words, the Board would like to give permission but there are fundamental faults which make that impossible.
The second stage of the ruling (almost three pages) is likewise very damning. It ensures that the back-door offered is in no way taken as ‘permission in principle’ being already granted. It sets down fourteen stipulations each one of which highlights how defective the application was. The most glaring that the five kilometre route through Rossport is refused and Sruwaddacon Bay must be re-considered. This route was already exhaustively considered and judged to be nonviable by route consultants RPS on both technical and environmental grounds. So where can it possibly go in that light?
Also, its failures are all the more appalling since this application was made under the new Strategic Infrastructure Act which is entirely geared to ‘fast-track’ projects.
It is clear that An Bord Pleanála are in quite as deep a hole as are SEPIL because of ‘strategic government policy’. It is time for both to face facts and implement the ‘new’ technology which Shell has for cleaning the gas at source. This is now capable of being installed on the seabed, as Petrobas are in the process of doing in Brazil.
Workable solutions are possible which are cheaper and far more efficient but SEPIL have locked themselves into a solution about which they are intransigent despite bringing mayhem to the local population.
Ed Moran is a retired secondary school who lives in Belmullet .