OVER two months after it jack-knifed at an isolated Mayo crossroads, Shell’s giant tunnel-boring machine reached its final destination in a midnight operation, supported by over 60 gardaí, at the weekend.
Christened Fionnuala by Shell, the 500-tonne and 149-metre machine is due to start digging the 4.9km subsea tunnel under Sruwaddacon Bay in the coming weeks, heralding the final phase of the controversial Corrib gas project.
The operation to move the machine from the main refinery site at Bellanaboy – its temporary location since the jack-knifing incident – to the tunnelling site at Aughoose was impeded by a lock-on protest by members of Rossport Solidarity Camp. A spokesman confirmed yesterday that two camp members locked themselves into a 400kg reinforced concrete barrel from 7.30pm until a garda team cut them out in the early hours of Friday morning last. They were brought to Belmullet Garda Station where they were charged with public order offences, before being released around 4am.
The camp spokesman also said that roads to and from Aughoose were closed by gardaí during the removal of the machine to the new site.
Originally, the lorry carrying parts of the tunnel-boring machine failed to turn at a narrow junction leading to the Aughoose site and subsequently jack-knifed while attempting to reverse around a crossroads further up the road. It was part of a large convoy, flanked by Garda vans and outriders, as well as other security personnel, that left Dublin Port on Sunday night, July 30, transporting sections of the machine to the oil company’s operations in north west Mayo.
Speaking yesterday, local resident, Bina Murphy, who cares for a nonagenarian woman, said she was worried about the impact of the escalation of works. Ms Murphy said herself and her husband had received a letter from Shell E&P Ireland, confirming that 24-hour works would start soon on a seven-day per week basis at the tunnelling site.
“We live about a half-mile from the site and already, even before the tunnelling has started, there are noisy generators going all night and flashing lights. This is an isolated rural area and we have a very elderly woman living with us, as well as our children,” Bina Murphy said.
Shell stipulated in the letter that all upcoming works were outlined in an Environmental Management Plan, approved by Mayo County Council on September 28 last. It invited anyone with concerns to contact their local offices.
A Shell spokeswoman confirmed that tunnelling was expected to start before the end of the year and will take approximately 15 months to complete.
MEANWHILE, Shell has announced that the ‘most significant safety milestone yet on the Corrib gas project was achieved when 3,000,000 hours of work were clocked without a safety incident leading to a ‘lost time’ incident’.
The record, over a two-and-a-quarter period, was reached on October 4 and represented 833 days without a safety incident leading to a staff member or contractor having to take time off work due to injury.
Paying tribute to all involved in the achievement, Project Director Roeland Borsboom said: “This milestone was reached through the combined efforts of all our staff and contractors maintaining a constant focus on safety. Currently there are almost 900 people employed on Corrib, so that makes the achievement all the more significant.”
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