Shell: The New Aristocracy in Mayo

The story of Shell's attempt to re-develop Bangor Erris, North West Mayo: Interview with Maura Harrington, local campaigner, and a photo story of the sites to be vandalised and being vandalised. On Wednesday March 1st at 11 a.m. Shell again attempted to access the lands of farmers in Rossport, north-west Co. Mayo. They were refused access, told that they did not have proper consent to work on the land. The land in question is on the route of a high pressure up stream pipeline which is to bring untreated gas from the Corrib Gas field to a massive on-shore refinery at Ballinaboy. This is a repeat of Shell’s earlier attempt to access the lands in January. The previous Saturday there was an NUIG Ecology Society fact finding mission to the Bangor Erris area to see what Shell propose to do. Here follows a photo story of the development and the text of an interview we made with Maura Harrington, a local campaigner. Related Links: On the cushy deals multinationals are getting: Gas Lads | The Great Oil and Gas Rip-Off | The Biggest Scandal of Them All | Some History: The environmental and social costs of living with Shell Previous Indymedia Stories Shell in Mayo: An Update | Corrib Gas Go Ahead Granted to Shell A Tourist Guide to the Area Erris and Bellmullet, Co.Mayo Hi Maura, could you explain a bit about why people oppose this development and the environmental costs and associated health and safety dangers? That’s a fairly tall issue but, the first thing I’d say is in terms of the environment, as it is defined and normally used at the moment, I consider it a kind of inversion, because to use Bertie Ahern’s infamous phrase about snails and swans it is not essentially about snails and swans per se, as it is about the quality of the entire environment which sustains them and by sustaining them sustains us. It is the whole interaction of the environment as a holistic system. In terms of the proposed gas refinery here it is proposed for an area which has absolutely nothing like that, in that it is completely rural and at the time that industrialisation could have helped the people here it didn’t happen through political neglect and this is the same type of political neglect that would now try to foist on an area, that has a natural resource of its own right in terms of its quality of air, soil and water, and now at the very time it is coming to an end of that kind of dirty process of doing things elsewhere, it is now that they are attempting to impose it on the people here. It would have at least 30 million cubic feet of emission per day, that’s a horrendous amount of stuff spewing out in the middle of what is now at least unspoilt. This is into Broadhaven Bay? No this is the emission into the air around Ballinaboy, it will not just stay the air of course, it will move as the air current moves it, and Ballinaboy is no more that one and a half or two kilometres as the crow flies from Carrowmore Lake which is the source of the regional water supply. The lake itself is largish but very shallow which means that its area will absorb the emissions but there isn’t the depth of water to deal with them, if they could be dealt with anyway. At the same time there will be waste water discharged into Broadhaven Bay and because the tidal nature of Broadhaven Bay is more circular than straight out to sea most of those emissions through water will come back in and lodge in areas around the shore. At the same time you have what is an unprecedented high pressure pipeline running through the villages of Glengad, Rossport and Gortacragher and well this pipeline; the difficulty here at the moment is to get the message out to people who have only a passing knowledge of this, this pipeline is not like the Bord Gais pipelines. It is in private ownership and the pressure of gas inside it is totally different and the pressure inside it can be up to four times greater than that of the biggest Bord Gais pipelines in the country. You normally have one bar pressure bringing the gas into houses in towns. You have transmission pressure of up to 70 bar in the big Bord Gais pipelines, this pressure in this pipeline is between 150 bar and 345 bar, at the maximum that is 5,000 pounds per square inch pressure. It’s a horrendous concept and it is proposed to be built in an area of proven natural instability and they still think they can go ahead and do it. Can you explain a bit about the proven natural instability and the bog surface that both the pipeline and the terminal or refinery are being constructed on? The proposed landfall for the pipeline is at a place called Glengad or Dooncarton, it’s called by both names, and it was Dooncarton Mountain which experienced horrendous peat slides on the 19th of September 2003. Now the pipeline is proposed to come in at the toe of the slope of Dooncarton , right at the bottom of it, it would travel parallel to Dooncarton for about a kilometre, about a 1,000 metres, then cross over into Rossport. Now first of all to come into the inner shore there will be blasting required and there will be blasting required at the site in Rossport, where it’s gonna hit the land over there. The local communities are naturally very worried as to what the effects of that blasting may be on an area which has already experienced such devastation and is a very short time in recovery. Again the up stream route itself is proposed to run through some areas of reclaimed bog, that is working farmland, but also through some areas which are deep, deep, bog, at least 20 foot deep, and in that instance nobody who knows the bog can see how Shell’s contractors can propose to anchor that pipeline safely, through that terrain. It has not been done anywhere else. I mean Andy Pyle of Shell on local radio was defending it saying that of course Bord Gais pipelines go through peat, but that is the old lie, of this pipeline being the same as a Bord Gais pipeline, it is not, and anyway Bord Gais pipelines would not run through such depth of peat. The terminal itself is being constructed on bog, you were saying earlier that the method they are using for this has only been used in laboratories previously. Yes, because of the refusal by Bord Plenala the first time, which related primarily but not solely to the volumes of peat, of bog, to be desegregated and dumped, this time around they came up with a solution, so-called, of removing approximately half a million ton of bog from Ballinaboy to a cut away bog area in Bord na Mona at Srahmore 8 miles away and then they also said they wouldn’t be removing quite as much peat as before. It was supposed to be 660 thousand cubic meters the first time. So what they are not removing they propose to stabilise by mixing it with cement. Now there have been laboratory experiments done in Sweden but they have been largely laboratory, there have been a couple of very small field trials done in Trinity, but they have been tiny by comparison, and they are only the first step on from laboratory trials. Here in Ballinaboy Shell propose, and it was accepted by the An Bord Plenala capitulation, to try this: what is essentially a very large field test, but to use it as a basis for building a gas refinery on it, and not alone that, but the flare tower, which would have to deal with releasing the pressure from the high pressure pipeline, they prose to build that on top of what they call stabilised peat. But when you mix cement with bog, the bog is acidic, the cement is alkaline, so you have a chemical reaction which produces heat and releases certain elements including hexavalent chromium which is deadly if it gets into the water courses. But in the EIS they all say well hexavalent chromium will travel for about one meter and then sit, this is very well behaved hexavalent chromium, and then not go near any water courses. Anyone who believes that will believe in flying pigs. The one final thing about so-called stabilisation is that is this mixing of bog and cement works better at the higher level than when it goes further down and it has to go from the top down to bed rock if it is to be properly stabilised. Its strength fails as it goes further down so it is a recipe for potential disaster. Can you tell us a little more about the effects on Carrowmore Lake? Carrowmore Lake is of massive importance for all the people of the region and this would include the many people who thought there were benefits and dollars to be got from what’s now known around here as the gas. Those people have now changed their minds as well, when they see the dollars aren’t coming. The only thing at this stage we would be assured of getting from the gas is I believe the further contamination of Carrowmore Lake. As I say it is largish, shallow, it is also a spring fed lake as well as fed from the rivers going into it, nobody knows the exact location of all the springs which feed it, we do know that the Ballinaboy river, which is going alongside the terminal site, into the lake, forms 27% of the catchment. That river has not been properly monitored by any statutory agency since last October, the EPA, which is supposed to be responsible for testing water sources on behalf of the council, while they say they carry out tests we haven’t seen the results of them so there is a complete disconnection between any responsibility being accepted by anybody who is dealing with Shell on behalf of the people who have to deal with the consequences of the lake being damaged. Now for the past two years it has had an algae bloom on it and that had never happened before, it has sustained angling before for years and years, but there has been no angling on the lake for the past two summers and the EPA’s explanation for that is because of a peat slide which occurred in the area in 1997. But I would ask that given that the status of Carrowmore lake has been degraded since 2000 and given that the water quality in the Glenamoy river has been degraded and both of those are facts and the only common denominator between the two is the Civil Engineering activity at Ballinaboy, I don’t think it is illogical to say that da bhri sin Ballinaboy is the culprit, and that you are gonna get worse. But surely this is an economic black spot where lots of people have to either migrate or emigrate for employment and surely there are economic benefits associated with this development? I’m afraid not, that is the spin which was accepted at the beginning, but it has now become very obvious, given what has begun at that proposed site at Ballinaboy, there are at the most I would say half a dozen locals employed there, there is something like 100 or 150 working at the site at the moment, they are being bussed in from Ballina everyday, I don’t know where they are coming from, some would be from Galway, some from Clare, they are not local they are obviously people who have been contracted to Roadbridge, they are the lot doing the work, and there is no real local employment. There is no local spin off, because one of the great economic benefits as trumpeted in the EIS was to be that of the sale of sandwiches in the local shops, now it transpires that a person who has a close connection with the County Manager has got the catering contract on site at Ballinaboy. So how did the campaign start? The campaign started initially, when Enterprise Oil, as it was at the time, announced the good news for the Erris region that they intended to pipe the Corrib Gas ashore in Erris and this was in the summer of 2000, at the time nobody in the area had the faintest conception of what the pipeline entailed. I tell the story against myself, when I heard it I quite literally thought that we might be getting the piped gas the same as the water supply. I really did think that with the gas coming into Erris that there would be gas, piped along country roads into the houses, which I know now was a ludicrous notion. But at the time a lot of so-called movers and shakers, and those who are considered influential bought into this, and they came out in favour of it, this included both Church and State, moulders of opinion, because they thought it would be a very good idea, and because they don’t have what it takes to admit they were wrong they are still caught in that spin of the oil companies. What have been the high points of the campaign so far? High points, the major one would have been the refusal of permission by An Bord Plenala in April 2003. This was accompanied by the inspector’s report which ran to 377 pages, the independent consultant’s report which was over 100 pages as well. So you consider that there was 500 pages of solid forensic examination of the proposal and in very simple terms they said it was the wrong place for such a development. But then of course that was quickly followed by a Fianna Fail and vested interests’ rally in Bellmullet in July of that year. When you had O’Cuiv and Fahey from Galway down in Bellmullet, and the then Fianna Fail TDs for Mayo, which included Beverly Cooper-Flynn at the time, and John Carthy, weren’t there at all. What international links have you been building with this campaign? From an early stage in the campaign when we met with Majella McCarron, who had 30 years experience in Nigeria and who personally knew Ken Saro Wiwa, we made links with her in 2001, and she provided a link to ECCR, which is based in Oxford, they are the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility, and they are Christian Churches as the name implies. They arose from the Nigerian scandal of ten years ago now, when they decided rather than remove their pension investments from Shell they would keep Shell in their portfolios and work as a shareholder pressure group. They were our first international link. It was through them and thanks to them that I attended the Shell AGM in London last year. At that AGM I made lots of other international contacts the chief of which would be Global Community Monitor which is based in San Francisco. What kind of reception did you get at the Shell AGM? It was interesting from the Irish perspective cause people are used to any meeting you attended you can ask your question if you are not satisfied with the answer you can pursue that. I followed the same track at the AGM. I asked a question; it was at the time that the directors’ remuneration was being voted, so I asked if the directors were aware of the health and safety implications of the proposed up stream pipeline. The question was fielded by the chairperson Lord Oxbourgh to the head of Shell Transport and Trading who proceeded to waffle blithely on about what an important development the Corrib thing was for Ireland and it would supply two thirds of Ireland’s energy needs, which again was pure waffle, so I came back on him on a point of order and I was lucky in fact to get the mike back, it was a roving mike. I just asked him how .87 tcf of gas could provide for two thirds of the energy needs of the country. At that he had to kick to touch and say he would discuss it with me afterward. But it seems that was considered greatly daring by those attending the meeting because it seems people don’t come back with a point of order, they say their little bit, they get their pro forma answer and they go away for another year. So I was lucky in that that drew attention to me at the meeting which meant that the activists from others parts of the world knew here was someone else who could be joined up with. You mentioned earlier about being in front of bulldozers, could you tell us a little about that? That happened in July 2002 and it is a small scale version of what Shell do globally, they had begun to do horrible damage at the beach in Glengad, they had broken through the sandy cliff base, and they had a digger, pulling down the shore, so we were there that morning, a group of us from about 8 in the morning, we were walking along the shore to show and establish that the public had a right of access along the foreshore. The digger was just kinda on the shore and Shell they called the Garda, so the Garda came spoke with us, spoke with the oil company lot and the Garda were given a guarantee that the digger would be moved up, off the shore, onto land, and at that everybody left, those of us who had been walking the beach and the Garda and we saw the digger being pulled up, that was fine, we went away. I went into my school but before I left there to go home I drove back through Glengad and lo and behold the digger was further down the shore. So I went down on my own and it was a local person driving the digger, he is actually related to be, a Sweeny, and what I said to him, though I doubt he heard as he had the engine going at the time, I mentioned my grandfather, god rest him he is long dead, I told him Anthony Sweeny would come back and haunt him, whatever Anthony Sweeny’s spirit did it was enough for yer man to switch off the machine leaving the bucket touching the ground and just instinctively I hopped up on it and sat on it, and I had my mobile phone so I just rang around and more people came to stay with me. What would you like people who are not in the immediate Bangor Erris area, but sympathetic to the campaign, to do? Well I would first of all extend a very warm welcome to them to please come here. I know that to come to Erris you have to make a conscious effort to do so because we are not on the way to anywhere other than to America, but I do believe that if people who have, if only a passing interest in the subject, if you could given the opportunity, when the weather improves, which it does sometimes in Erris, if you could make the journey down. >br> You come to either Ballina or Castlebar and into a place called Bangor Erris and once you get there you can follow the Shell signs which would bring you to the centre of this inglorious activity and certainly I believe that once you see the area you will agree with us that it is not the place for a gas refinery and an unprecedented high pressure up stream pipeline.


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