Watching the World: Protests mire Irish gas line

July 11, 2005
S hell Exploration & Production Ireland continues to face problems over the development of its Corrib natural gas project, 70 km off Ireland.

Shell Exploration & Production Ireland continues to face problems over the development of its Corrib natural gas project, 70 km off Ireland.

The last time we looked at this project, a handful of farmers in County Mayo were objecting to the construction of a 9 km pipeline to carry the natural gas across their lands (OGJ, Mar. 28, 2005, p. 28).

At the time, there seemed to be a puckish side to the story-replete with references to Irish charm and fairy tales. Now, things have become less charming, the fairies seem to have deserted the landscape, and few eyes in Ireland are smiling.

Protestors arrested

In late June, five men-farmers Willie Corduff, Philip McGrath, and Brendan Philbin and retired schoolteachers Vincent McGrath and Michael O’Suighin-were sent to prison after refusing to guarantee to the Dublin High Court that they would not obstruct the construction of Shell E&P Ireland’s gas pipeline in County Mayo.

The five men, now referred to as the “Rossport Five,” all apparently believe that the pipeline project is unsafe and threatens the lives, livelihoods, and security of the people of the region.

In that regard, they have the backing of one or two local experts, including one Werner Blau, professor of physics at Trinity College, Dublin, who reportedly said the fears of the men and their families in Rossport were justified, given the fatality record in relation to high-pressure pipelines.

In support of his claims, Blau told a rally that the US Office of Pipeline Safety has recorded 1,586 incidents including 61 fatalities, 235 injuries, and more than $408 million of damage from 1986 to 2004.

Oddly enough, however, the professor seems to have overlooked one of the “frequently asked questions” on OPS’s web site.

That question is: “How safe are pipelines?” The answer is simple enough: “Relative to the volumes of products transported, pipelines are extremely safe when compared to other modes of energy transportation.”

Assurances given

That’s precisely the view taken by Shell E&P Ireland, too.

In a statement, the company said, “It is important to point out that gas pipelines remain the most common and safest way to transport gas in Ireland and countries all over the world in a wide range of conditions, environments, terrains, and at many different pressures.”

Shell E&P Ireland said its Corrib gas pipeline had been designed-and would be built-to world-class standards.

“This pipeline, which runs on the seabed for most of its length, has been designed for a pressure of 345 bar; however, it will never run at this level,” the company said.

Summing up the situation, and perhaps its own frustration, Shell E&P Ireland said, “It is deeply regrettable that the unfounded fears of some landowners have been recklessly stoked by some who must bear some of the responsibility for the current situation.”