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The Irish Media and the Corrib Gas Project
 
 

 
 
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No Ordinary Pipeline: Your Pipeline News
 
Andrew McGrath 

 

The energy distribution firm Emera plans to build a gas pipeline from the liquid natural gas terminal in Mispec, New Brunswick, through the city of St. John and down to the U.S. border, on behalf of Irving Oil and partner Repsol. Despite assurances by the company that it has a spotless safety record, the city’s fire chief, in a report submitted to the city council, has backed calls by residents to re-route the pipeline under the Bay of Fundy rather than through the city, stating that while a rupture was unlikely, its consequences could be catastrophic. The report states that a high intensity fire would rapidly burn an area extending 300 metres from the point of rupture. The proposed route will bring the pipeline close to the Irving oil refinery, an electrical substation, apartment blocks and houses, manufacturing plants using hazardous materials, and through Rockwood Park. In secret negotiations with Irving Oil (reminiscent of those conducted with representatives of the oil and gas industry by Energy Minister Ray Burke in 1987) city mayor Norman McFarlane was persuaded to make huge tax concessions on the lands Irving wanted for the St. John LNG terminal.
 
    The Russian Government recently shut down sections of the Sakhalin 2 pipeline project, on the stated grounds of multiple violations of environmental protection legislation. A group of Russian and international environmental groups, in a letter to the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, stated that the project, in which Shell has a 55% stake, cannot credibly demonstrate that Sakhalin 2 complies with the Bank’s enviromental policies. Severe erosion has plagued the pipeline route as a result of failed, and in some cases non-existent, erosion control measures, with runoff polluting wild salmon rivers. Erosion, along with the threat of seismic activity in the region, poses serious risks for pipeline integrity. The dumping of a million tons of waste by the consortium will threaten the survival of the dwindling grey whale population. The Sakhalin Island economy, also, is heavily dependent on fishing, and is already under threat from pollution. Owing to a large influx of foreign workers, Sakhalin Island has seen an explosion in prostitution, violence against women, and HIV/AIDS. Even if the Russian Government’s intervention, citing such concerns, is a pretext for increasing the state company Gazprom’s stake in the project, it has succeeded in bringing to prominence a series of grave violations the responsibility for which rests entirely with the consortium. It is also a recognition that official corruption has given energy multinationals undue influence.
 

    The Russian Government recently shut down sections of the Sakhalin 2 pipeline project, on the stated grounds of multiple violations of environmental protection legislation. A group of Russian and international environmental groups, in a letter to the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, stated that the project, in which Shell has a 55% stake, cannot credibly demonstrate that Sakhalin 2 complies with the Bank’s enviromental policies. Severe erosion has plagued the pipeline route as a result of failed, and in some cases non-existent, erosion control measures, with runoff polluting wild salmon rivers. Erosion, along with the threat of seismic activity in the region, poses serious risks for pipeline integrity. The dumping of a million tons of waste by the consortium will threaten the survival of the dwindling grey whale population. The Sakhalin Island economy, also, is heavily dependent on fishing, and is already under threat from pollution. Owing to a large influx of foreign workers, Sakhalin Island has seen an explosion in prostitution, violence against women, and HIV/AIDS. Even if the Russian Government’s intervention, citing such concerns, is a pretext for increasing the state company Gazprom’s stake in the project, it has succeeded in bringing to prominence a series of grave violations the responsibility for which rests entirely with the consortium. It is also a recognition that official corruption has given energy multinationals undue influence.

    The Corrib gas pipeline is no ordinary pipeline, notwithstanding Shell/Government PR and statements by RTE personnel and sections of the press which show little awareness of the facts.
•    In granting Shell consent to build the pipeline, Minister Noel Dempsey breached EU Directive 98/30, and its replacement 2003/55, which outline the common rules for the internal market in natural gas, in that he failed to specify a safety standard with which the pipeline must comply. Shell has claimed the pipeline complies with BS 8010. But the Advantica report, despite its limited terms of reference (which excluded the Ballinaboy terminal, even though its inland location is responsible for the pipeline controversy), stated that the pipeline in its current design cannot comply with BS 8010. By not specifying a safety standard, Shell can legally operate the pipeline with no safety regulations. Given the high corrosion risks associated with raw gas pipelines, and the proximity of the pipeline to inhabited areas, this exemption of the pipeline from any health and safety requirement is inexcusable.
•    The raw (unprocessed) gas pipeline, which brings gas from the wellhead where it is extracted to the refinery at Ballinaboy for cleaning, is the longest of its kind in the world at 5.6 miles (9km). As no safety standard exists, the pipeline is not covered under Irish health and safety law; therefore no procedures are specified for monitoring the integrity of the pipeline, and there are no emergency response procedures in place should the pipeline rupture, even though these are basic industry requirements.
•    The Irish State has been found in breach of the EU Habitats Directive by allowing the pipeline to traverse Broadhaven Bay, a Special Area of Conservation.
•    Shell has yet to submit an Environmental Impact Statement relating to emissions from the Ballinaboy terminal. It omitted gas flaring from its submission to Mayo County Council. Shell commissioned a report from UCC regarding marine life in Broadhaven Bay. Entitled “Marine mammal monitoring in the waters of Broadhaven Bay & northwest Mayo: 2001-2002”, it stated that the bay was “an important area for marine mammals and other species.” According to the Shell’s EIS, there was “no evidence that the bay is of particular importance” to whales and dolphins”.

•    Shell, despite repeated assurances that it intends to reroute the pipeline, and despite repetitions of this by the media and politicians, has not vacated the Compulsory Access Orders and Compulsory Acquisition Orders for the original route.

Bolivia has the second largest reserves of natural gas in South America, after Venezuela. In 2005, widespread protests, on one occasion paralyzing the capital La Paz, greeted the passing of a hydrocarbons law that, while increasing taxes on the multinationals that have controlled the country’s oil and gas reserves since privatization in 1996, fell short of a demand for complete nationalization. IMF and World Bank demands that the country export its gas via a proposed pipeline through long-time enemy Chile resulted in the “Gas War”: when 500,000 citizens marched to demand the resignation of President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada because of the deaths of 60 people at the hands of the military, the President boarded a plane to Miami. In May 2006, new president Evo Morales sent troops to seize gas fields, though whether his actions will live up to his promises waits to be seen. The privatization, like that in Ireland, was on terms highly favourable to (in other words virtually dictated by) the multinationals. In the years following, the companies discovered massive deposits of natural gas.
However, in the case of Ireland, the privatization, or hand-over, took place despite real alternatives for partership with oil-producing states (Norway and Iraq), and awareness of considerable hydrocarbon potential in Irish waters.

 
© The Tara Foundation, 2006