UP AND RUNNING Wednesday, December 30 was a truly historic day for Erris when Corrib gas started to power homes and businesses across Ireland. Shell Operations Technicians, Vincent Geraghty, Drum, Binghamstown; Inver’s Liam Doherty; Frank Carey, Belmullet and Production Co-ordinator Bambi Barnes from Alberta, Canada, are pictured operating the valves which commenced gas production at the Bellanaboy Bridge terminal. Pic: Henry Wills
THE Environmental Protection Agency are to investigate the flaring of gas from the Corrib gas plant in Bellanaboy which lit up the night’s sky on New Year’s Eve.
Natural gas has been flowing from the plant in Bellanaboy since last Wednesday when the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Alex White issued the final consent for Shell E&P Ireland to operate the Corrib natural gas pipeline, linking the subsea gas facilities to the Bellanaboy site.
The consent is subject to 20 conditions relating to ‘environmental management, operation, control and monitoring’. The Minister’s decision was welcomed by Shell E&P Ireland and An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, but criticised by Shell to Sea as ‘desperate and disgraceful’.
At peak annual production, the Corrib gas field is expected to produce around 260 MMscf/d of gas, which is 45,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. The gas field will meet on average 42 percent of the all-island gas demand over its first two years of operation.
Six wells have been drilled at the Corrib field with gas transported to the Bellanaboy Bridge Gas Terminal through a 20-inch pipeline. The gas is processed at Bellanaboy before it is transferred into the Gas Networks Ireland (GNI) network, which delivers it to Irish gas consumers.
“We are pleased to have completed the development of this unique project and to bring the Corrib field on stream. I would like to pay tribute to all those who contributed to delivering this critical energy project, which will continue to bring benefits to the region and the country for years to come,” said Shell E&P Ireland’s Managing Director, Ronan Deasy.
Welcoming the Minister’s annoucement, Enda Kenny said the development of indigenous gas resources will ‘deliver significant and sustained benefits, particularly in terms of enhanced security of supply, import substitution, national and local economic development, and fiscal return’.
However, just 24 hours after the gas started to flow from Bellanaboy, the night sky around the terminal and beyond was lit up in bright orange colour on New Year’s Eve following the lighting of a flare.
The flare was lit at approximately 8pm and the glow could be seen for miles around, with some social media users claiming it could be seen 60km away in Louisburgh. Residents close to the terminal expressed concern about the intensity of the flare.
Shell acknowledged that the flaring was ‘exceptional’ on December 31, and has promised to ‘take all measures’ to minimise further occurrences, which it says may be ‘intermittent in the coming days’ as first gas is brought ashore.
Shell issued an alert to residents on Wednesday which stated that ‘the valves which control the well out at the Corrib field have now been opened up’ and ‘as part of normal start-up activities, please expect some flaring over the next 48 hours’.
Footage of the flaring was shared on social media sites and John Egan, a director of Shell E&P Ireland released a video on YouTube showing the flare. Standing on a platform at the terminal with the flare in the background, he said it was ‘a fantastic way to spend New Year’s Eve’.
“For people like myself who worked on Corrib for a very long time, this is an extraordinary sight. These are Corrib gas molecules being flared off and we are now getting ready to sell this gas into the network to power businesses and homes all over Ireland. This is a fantastic way to spend New Year’s Eve, 2015,” he said.
While test flaring has occurred at Bellanaboy since November 2014, Aughoose resident, Gerry Bourke said the flaring on New Year’s Eve was ‘far more intensive and extensive than previously witnessed’.
Diane Taylor, who lives in Glengad, told The Irish Times that what she witnessed the New Year’s Eve was ‘frightening’.
“The sky over Broadhaven Bay was pure orange, and it seemed as if thick smoke was billowing over the hill behind me,” she said. “It looked like the hill over by Pollathomas was on fire,” she said.
The EPA has confirmed it is ‘liaising and will continue to liaise with the licensee, Shell E&P Ireland Ltd regarding the operation of the flare’.
It says under the project’s emissions licence conditions, flaring can only be used ‘for safety reasons or for non-routine operational conditions’.
‘Examining all evidence’
They added they were ‘examining all evidence in relation to the flaring operation’. “Having completed this examination the EPA will decide on the appropriate enforcement action, if any.”
The Corrib gas project has been mired in controversy since gas was discovered 83km off the Mayo coast 20 years ago with community opposition resulting in two changes to the planned onshore pipeline route.
In April 2003, Bord Pleanála inspector Kevin Moore warned that the isolated rural area of north Mayo was the ‘wrong site’, but a revised planning application for the onshore refinery by Shell received approval the following year.
The opposition to the onshore pipeline on environmental and safety grounds culminated in the jailing of five men known as the Rossport Five in 2005. Further protests at the Corrib gas site at Bellanaboy resulted in regular clashes with gardaí and the €3.4 billion project ran more than three times over budget.
At the height of the construction phase of the project, up to 1,400 workers were employed many of them from Co Mayo.
The final section of pipeline runs through the longest tunnel of its type in Europe under Sruwaddacon estuary - linking the landfall for the offshore pipeline at Glengad to the refinery at Bellanaboy.
Speaking following the Minister’s consent, Shell to Sea spokesperson, Terence Conway said it was ‘disgraceful’ permission was granted despite Shell’s EPA consent to operate the Corrib Gas refinery currently being admitted for hearing before the High Court.
“Over the years campaigners have been constantly lectured by politicians about the need to respect the laws of the land and courts, but again with Corrib we are seeing there is one law for them; another law for us.
“Minister White included 20 conditions with his consent, but as we’ve seen previously Shell treat conditions by the regulatory authorities with total contempt. It is the height of hypocrisy for Minister Alex White to talk, in his press release, about transitioning to a low carbon economy where he announced he was giving consent to operate a refinery to Shell,” he said.