CLOSE ENCOUNTER A still of the flare from a video by Rossport resident, Mary Corduff.
COMPANIES selling ‘potentially dangerous energy products’ are obliged ‘to ensure that there is no risk to the customer’. That was according to Minister Michael Ring in the aftermath of news breaking last Thursday night about the fact that odourless gas from the Corrib refinery had entered the network for Galway and Mayo. The crisis, which involved a 36-hour flaring operation at the Bellanaboy refinery in order to push the odourless gas back out of the network, has since been resolved as two State inquiries continue into the potentially dangerous situation.
“I am aware that the EPA is engaged with Gas Networks Ireland and the priority is that this situation is resolved safely and with minimal inconvenience to customers. However, we also need answers on how this was allowed to happen and we need them without delay.
“We were given guarantees that this type of thing couldn’t happen. Companies that sell potentially dangerous energy products to our consumers have an obligation to ensure that there is no risk to the customer,” Minister Ring said in a statement over the weekend.
“The fact that this has not happened is of the utmost concern,” he continued.
The issue, which affected almost 10,000 homes and businesses in the two counties, has now been resolved while two State inquiries – Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – into the leak have been implemented, according to Gas Networks Ireland (GNI). Shell E&P Ireland has also opened an inquiry.
The National Gas Emergency Plan was initiated after it was confirmed that non-odourised gas had entered the system.
A 15m flame was visible from as far away as Achill after the flaring of the odourless gas to remove it from the system began on Thursday morning last. Residents said the flame was constant and the flaring sounded like as jet aircraft taking off.
Customers in counties Galway and Mayo – in Ballina, Ballinrobe, Castlebar, Claremorris, Crossmolina, Westport, Galway city, Headford and Tuam – were advised to shut down their gas supplies on Thursday until further notice for safety reasons.
The operation involved an estimated €400,000 worth of fuel – equivalent to one-fifth of the national daily demand – having to be pushed back through the system and burned off at the refinery. Flaring finally stopped on Friday night.
SPEAKING to The Mayo News yesterday (Monday), local resident Mary Corduff, who lives a mile (as the crow flies) from the refinery, said the whole experience was ‘very frightening’.
“The noise, which was like a jet taking off, was almost as bad as the flare. It was there from the time we got up at 8am on Thursday and continued until Friday night.”
“There has been flaring incidents umpteen times since the operation started but this was at a constant high pressure for over 36 hours. It is the worst we have experienced and was seen as far away as Enniscrone” Ms Corduff said.
She called on Minister Ring to ensure the project’s IPPC (Integrated Pollution Prevention Control), granted by the EPA, be revoked.
“This licence is meant to prevent pollution. If you saw the flare then you also got the pollution,” she added.
Gas Networks Ireland (GNI) apology
IN a statement on Saturday night GNI confirmed that it had ‘completed the restoration of fully odourised gas in the network in Galway and Mayo’. It apologised to its customers for any inconvenience caused and thanked them for their patience throughout the incident.
Natural gas is odourless, colourless and tasteless.
The chemical containing sulphur is added during the refining process for safety reasons.
Reportedly, one fifth of a day’s supply entered the network from Shell’s Bellanaboy terminal without the additive. This is understood to have happened from Wednesday into Thursday before it was discovered by a worker in the refinery.