Corrib gas controversy

Corrib gas controversy
Shell to Sea protest at the intended refinery site at Bellanaboy, November 2007

The Corrib gas controversy concerns plans by Shell E&P Ireland, Statoil Exploration (Ireland) Limited, Vermilion Energy Trust and the Irish government for processing the Corrib gas field through Broadhaven Bay and Sruth Fada Conn Bay in Kilcommon parish, Erris, County Mayo, and objections raised against those plans.



The Corrib gas project entails the extraction of a natural gas deposit off the northwest coast of Ireland. The project includes a development of the Corrib gas field, and constructions of the natural gas pipeline and a gas processing plant. The project is developed by Shell E&P Ireland as operator of the project, in cooperation with Statoil Exploration (Ireland) Limited, and the Vermilion Energy Trust.[1][2]

The deepwater exploration licence No. 2/93 for 11 years, covering four blocks in the Slyne Trough, was granted on 1 January 1993 to Enterprise Oil. The licence was issued under the licensing terms for offshore oil and gas exploration and development 1992.[3] The Corrib natural gas field was discovered in 1996. It was the first reported commercial natural gas discovery in Ireland since the Kinsale Head gas field was discovered in 1973.[4] The first appraisal well was drilled in 1997.[5] A number of consents and approvals to develop the Corrib Project were issued in 2001.[1]

In 2002, Enterprise Oil was acquired by Royal Dutch Shell who took over the operatorship of the project. Development of the project began in 2004.[5]

Sinn Féin called for an inquiry into the Corrib deal as early as 2001.[citation needed]

Reasons for controversy

The controversy has stemmed from many points:

  • Local residents along the course of the proposed pipeline route felt they were not sufficiently consulted (decisions were imposed on the community by force)[6][citation needed]
  • The location of the pipeline and its proximity caused concern [7][citation needed]
  • The transmission pressure and untreated nature of the gas in the pipeline[citation needed]
  • The location of the onshore processing facility on former forestry land caused concern adjacent to water supply[8]
  • Jailing of protesters at the request of Shell[9]
  • Concerns about the marine ecology[10]
  • Most people who live in Cill Chomáin parish, the area affected, believe that gas processing should be carried out at sea[11][12][citation needed]
  • Some[13] are concerned with irregularities in the policies preceding this project[citation needed]

Planning problems

In November, 2000 planning permission was submitted for an onshore terminal at Bellanaboy to Mayo County Council (MCC). In January, 2001 MCC sought more information after local concerns are raised.[citation needed]

In April[when?] a new planning application was submitted. June[when?], MCC seek more information which is supplied in July. The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Minister Fahey hosted a public meeting on offshore licensing aspects of Corrib in Geesala, Co. Mayo.[citation needed]

In August[when?] MCC granted planning permission for the onshore terminal, with conditions. This is immediately appealed to An Bord Pleanala by residents and environmental groups.[citation needed] Also in August Minister Fahey stated that the objectors are holding up progress in the west.[citation needed] The Planning decision according to a Channel Four documentary resulted from "huge pressure" that had been exerted on it.[citation needed] This decision was immediately appealed to An Bord Pleanála (ABP) by local people and environmental groups.[14] In 2002, planning permission for a proposed refinery in County Mayo was refused by Senior Planning Inspector Kevin Moore, of ABP. His report stated: "From a strategic planning perspective, this is the wrong site; from the perspective of Government policy which seeks to foster balanced regional development, this is the wrong site; from the perspective of minimising environmental impact, this is the wrong site; and consequently, from the perspective of sustainable development, this is the wrong site".[15]

Then Minister for Marine and Natural Resources Frank Fahey told the media that this refusal was "just a hitch".[16] He was backed by local Fine Gael TD, now leader of that party, Enda Kenny, but opposed by another local Fine Gael TD, Michael Ring. An Bord Pleanála had asked Shell to examine the less profitable option of refining the gas at sea[citation needed], but this was not undertaken. In 2002 a Rossport resident failed in a High Court challenge to halt the pipeline.[17]

In 2003 senior executives from Shell sought, and were given, an interview with then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and other Irish government ministers.[18] Within a week, Ahern met with the board of An Bord Pleanála, who are appointed by the government.[citation needed] In December 2003, a new planning application was made for the same site, together with a peat storage site some 11 km away. This was subject to an appeal to An Bord Pleanála who granted permission in October 2004 attaching 42 conditions.[19] The board decided to ignore many of its own inspector's recommendations. Not long before, a huge landslide swept away the whole surface area of a mountain close to the intended pipeline route. Planning permission was not required for the onshore pipeline under the Gas Act 1976.[20]

In November 2009, An Bord Pleanála ordered Shell to redesign the pipeline and move its route away from homes because it posed an "unacceptable risk".[21]

Opponents and supporters

The Shell to Sea campaign, which is campaigning to have the gas processed at sea rather than inland, was created during the imprisonment of the Rossport Five in 2005. It is a very active group in the affected Kilcommon parish holding regular meetings and organising regular events. Shell to Sea also has many supporters outside of the immediately affected area from across County Mayo, across all of Ireland and there are also several international Shell to Sea groups across the world. Shell to Sea have a website that is kept updated on a daily basis. They refuse to be participants in the North West Development Forum (known as the Corrib Gas Forum or known locally as the 'Funny Forum') at which Government Ministers, Royal Dutch Shell and Mayo County Council sit occasionally in a hotel in Belmullet to try to work out a solution to the Corrib Gas problem.[22]

Pobal Chill Chomáin, a group of local residents who live in the affected Kilcommon parish, Erris, from both peninsulas of Sruwaddacon Bay also oppose the current plans for the project, due to concerns about the health, safety and environmental impact of the onshore aspects of the scheme and cite Shell's record in similar projects.[23] ). They refuse to participate in the Corrib Gas Forum, (North West Development Forum) at which Government Ministers, Shell and Mayo County Council try to discuss the 'development' of the Corrib Gas.[24][25][26]

Pobal Le Chéile is a local alliance of small and medium sized local business people mainly from the Erris region who also oppose the current plans for the project. They have refused to take Shell's money. They work closely with Pobal Chill Chomáin and have refused to participate in the Forum also.[citation needed]

Eamon Ryan (centre) at a Shell to Sea protest outside Leinster House in January 2006.

The Pro Gas Mayo Group (PGMG) is a small pressure group based in County Mayo, Ireland and successor to the Pro Erris Gas Group. It considers the Shell to Sea campaign to be threatening employment in Mayo.[27] It has three known members, Pádraig Cosgrove (from Bangor Erris), Harry Walsh (from Kilmaine, some 100 miles from the affected area) former non-party councillor on Mayo County Council, and Brendan Cafferty from Ballina (a former Garda). None of its known members reside in the affected community of Kilcommon Parish.[citation needed]

A poll conducted throughout the county by TNS/MRBI on behalf of RTÉ's Nuacht in September 2006[28] showed that 60% of respondents agreed the gas processing terminal should be located offshore, with 23% supporting Shell and the government's decision to build inland. The offshore alternative had strongest support amongst those aged under 49 years, and those residing in Castlebar/Ballinrobe/Claremorris and Westport/Belmullet areas."[citation needed]

Many[weasel words] environmental activists, particularly Shell to Sea and Maura Harrington, criticised Green Party politician Eamon Ryan for joining Fianna Fáil in coalition after the 2007 general election, as the terms of the programme for government did not include a reversal or renegotiation of the proposed gas pipline and refinery at Broadhaven Bay.[29][30] Before being appointed as Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Ryan visibly supported the aims of the Shell to Sea campaign and the Rossport Five, and also attended their protests.[31] Ryan was also criticised by Shell to Sea for failing to launch an independent review of the decision, as stipulated by the Green Party in a motion passed at their annual convention in 2007, though the party's 2007 election manifesto did not contain such a commitment.[32][33] The motion passed at the February 2007 annual conference in Galway said that "...the Green Party in government will not approve a production pipeline consent being signed as part of the Corrib gas project until the completion of a full independent review of the best development concept for the concept."[34]

Opposition 1998 to 2004

In 1998 there were complaints from unions about the failure to employ Irish workers on the exploration rig SEDCO 711. Enterprise Oil thought union wage rates offshore Ireland were two to three times higher than in the North Sea. The budget was £20 million for 2008 cumulatively £50 million.[citation needed] A spokesman said "Just because there is a big job doesn't mean there is slush to be thrown around for good social causes,"[35] "It is now time for the companies to acknowledge that they have an ethical and moral duty not only to our local regulatory bodies but to the ordinary people of this region to come here and publicly debate all issues relating to their current and future exploration activities off our coastline," said Mr Cunningham [36] The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Mr. Frank Fahy, warned that apart from the construction stages very few jobs will be created.[citation needed] Sub-sea technology will be used to bring the gas to land, which lies fifty miles off the Mayo coast, in contrast to the more commonly used production platforms.[37] Strong objections are raised to the building of a Gas Terminal from the residents of Ballinaboy and Leenamore. The villagers say all sixteen of their households in the remote villages of are within 1 km of the proposed terminal and that some houses are as close as 360 metres.[38] In 2001 Enda Kenny TD raised, in the Dáil, the concerns of the Erris Inshore Fishermen's Association about the effect of the discharge pipe from the terminal at Ballinaboy.[39] In 2003 an offshore terminal was mooted as an optimum solution to the Corrib gas planning crux.[40]

Protests 2005 to 2008

Maura Harrington (on bucket, second from right) at McGrath's pier, before the incident that led to her conviction and imprisonment, June 2007

In January Shell sent registered letters to a number of land owners who were denying the company access to their land, that they would take court action against them.[41]

Following the granting of planning permission, local people started blockading the terminal site and compounds set up for pipeline construction. On the 4th April 2005 Shell obtained a high court order restraining protesters from restricting access to its Rossport compound. In the week of 20 June it obtained a temporary injunction. On the 29th June Shell sought a committal order against five people for breach of the temporary injunction. This led to the imprisonment of the five men who became known as the Rossport Five.[42] A 300 km 'Long Walk' from Rossport, Co Mayo to Dublin took place in August 2006 to highlight opposition to the project. It took 12 days.[43]

Integrated Risk Management Services (I-RMS), a security firm employed by Shell, began working in Glengad in the summer of 2008. Security men caused controversy when local journalists reported on them filming children swimming near Shell's Glengad compound in the summer of 2008. Local parish priest Fr. Michael Nallen told media that the security men made his parishioners prisoners in their own area.[citation needed]

On September 9, 2008, Maura Harrington began a hunger strike in protest at the arrival of the pipe-laying ship Solitaire into Broadhaven Bay, and stated she would refuse food until the vessel left Irish waters. She ended her protest on September 19, after the ship was damaged and had to leave Ireland for repairs.[44]

On the night of September 15, 2008, a suspect package consisting of a plastic bag containing a bottle of petrol, a clock and a can of paint was found outside the Dublin HQ of Shell.[45]

Garda Operation

Gardaí remove a Belmullet man from a protest at the Glengad Shell site, August 2008

After the Rossport Five were jailed for contempt of court in the summer of 2005 for refusing to allow Shell workers access to their lands, supporters illegally blockaded all project works around Kilcommon in protest. The recently formed Shell to Sea (S2S) took part in the campaign with the aim of having the gas refined offshore as is done in Kinsale Head gas field though Shell state there are numerous technical and economic reasons why it should be processed onshore [46]. These blockades were maintained until October 2006, when hundreds of Gardaí used legitimate force to remove protesters blockading the sites.[47]

Previous to this, the Gardaí had not interfered with the blockades, which stayed in place for fifteen months. The requirement to use physical force to break the blockades made national TV news in Ireland. Some Gardaí and protesters were hospitalised, and many protesters claimed the police used excessive force. Gardaí were also accused of operating a "no-arrest policy" in order to circumvent the judicial process (this was based on comments made by Superintendent Joe Gannon in an interview in Garda Review, in which he stated: "There were no arrests. That was part of our strategy; we did not want to facilitate anyone down there with a route to martyrdom.")

The Garda operation succeeded in its goal of breaking the blockades preventing work on the refinery site at Bellanaboy. Work there has continued with brief pauses occasioned by site occupations and lock-ons) since. At times, hundreds of Gardaí have been deployed to facilitate the project. Many local people involved in Shell to Sea also complained of harassment and intimidation from police away from the protests.[citation needed]However there have also been accusations of intimidation of local people by Shell to Sea supporters [48]

The Garda Síochána are often described as Shell's police force by protesters due to their treatment of them.[by whom?]


In July 2008, preparatory work for the raw gas pipeline began in Glengad. Under Gilligan's superintendency over forty arrests made in the summer of 2008. The Irish Navy were brought in to provide assistance in dealing with protests on water. Local businessman and fisherman Pat O'Donnell accused the Gardaí of selective policing, alleging that they made no answer to call for assistance in defending his private property, crab pots that were in the path of the pipe laying vessel, Solitaire. Gardaí arrested O'Donnell and his son twice in a 24-hour period from the sea on public order charges, but desisted when their solicitor requested they charge his clients or stop arresting them.[citation needed]

Rossport Solidarity Camp spokesman Niall Harnett is removed from Belmullet courthouse following an altercation with Gardaí, March 2009

The Garda Water Unit were used to manage the actions of water-based protesters who sought to disrupt the Shell works. Shell's survey boats in Srahwuddacon Bay in Erris were accompanied at all times by several Gardaí in their own boat, when surveying feasible routes for the gas pipeline. In August and September 2008, members of the unit entered the sea to wrestle with Shell to Sea protesters near the Shell compound of Glengad beach.[49].

By September 2008, the cost of the operation was €10 Million and is estimated to have cost €13.5 Million by the end of January 2009 [50].

Pobal Chill Chomáin have also complained of Garda surveillance.[citation needed]

Involvement of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has recommended that disciplinary action be taken against an unnamed senior member of An Garda Síochána in relation to the handling of the protest. The GSOC investigation was undertaken under section 95 of the Garda Síochána Act, 2005, after receipt of complaints over Garda handling of a protest at Pollathomas pier in June 2007. Some 20 civilians and two gardaí were injured when a landowner objected to trespass on his property by contractors for Shell EP Ireland. The GSOC initially asked the Minister for Justice whether it could investigate the complaints under section 106 of the Garda Síochána Act. This was turned down by the Minister. Some 68 gardaí were contacted by the GSOC – a move criticised by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors.[51]


In April 2011, a senior Garda officer was appointed to investigate the treatment of two women who were arrested during protests. Gardaí were recorded on a video camera they had earlier confiscated joking about threatening to deport and rape one of the women. [52]

Opposition 2009 - 2010

In April 2009, protesters removed sections of fence they asserted were erected illegally. On 23 April, Willie Corduff, a Pobal Chill Chomáin member, was hospitalised in the early hours of the morning after an alleged assault by masked people during a protest at Shell works at Glengad.[53][54][55] I-RMS later confirmed that employees had intended to remove Corduff, but found him standing up, and had him taken away by ambulance when he complained of chest pains.[56] The recent Frontline report has found that the assault on Willie Corduff needs to be reinvestigated by Gardaí from outside of County Mayo as I-RMS claims are not corroborated by ambulance and hospital records which verify that his injuries are consistent with having been beaten up.[57] Two films have been made recently in the locality. [2] Trailer for 'The Pipe' which is to be released on 8 July 2010 at the Galway Film Festival and [3]'Pipe Down' film winner at the Waterford Film Festival 2010[citation needed]

In an effort to resolve issues, the OECD is to host talks between Pobal Chill Chomáin and Shell Ireland, following a complaint from Pobal Chill Chomáin that the project violates OECD guidelines for multinational companies.[58]

Following a prolonged Oral Hearing in the Broadhaven Bay Hotel in Belmullet in May and June 2009 chaired by An Bord Pleanala many discrepancies were uncovered in Shell & partners' plans for Kilcommon parish and their plans were rejected once again by the Board chairman. They were told to devise a new plan to be submitted by October 2009 and after several extensions of time, RPS Group on behalf of the Corrib Gas partners, eventually submitted a new Environmental Impact Statement to the Planning Board on 31 May 2010, a plan which this time, envisages laying the Corrib gas pipeline buried under the length of Sruwaddacon Bay. On 30 June 2010 the Corrib gas project placed three separate planning notices for the project in national and local newspapers giving one month in which submissions can be entered. They also incorporated Glengad into their latest planning application, which was omitted from previous applications. Their maps of the proposed Corrib Gas pipeline also omit most of this well populated townland in which Shell intends to place some of its most contentious components. It is expected that another Oral Hearing will then be held to discuss this variation in early autumn.[59] [60][61]

The Corrib Gas partners are about to commence the boring of 80 boreholes in Sruwaddacon Bay in July 2010 to see what the substrate underlying Sruwaddacon Bay is like.[62] [63] [64]


A book on the controversy called Once Upon a Time in the West – The Corrib Gas Controversy by Irish Times journalist Lorna Siggins was published in October 2010 by Transworld Ireland.[65]


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