Shell to Sea activists have vowed to escalate their campaign following yesterday’s [Thursday] An Bord Pleanála ruling granting Shell permission to lay a high pressure on-shore gas pipeline within a tunnel under Sruwaddacon Estuary in north Mayo, a Special Protected Area and Special Area of Conservation.
Shell’s plan involves the construction of a four-metre wide tunnel under the estuary, through which a pipe will carry the unrefined raw gas from the Corrib field, before emerging over land to the refinery at Ballinaboy.
While news of An Bord Pleanála’s ruling was buried under the rubble of the collapse of Fianna Fáil and the announcement of the date for a general election in the Twenty-Six Counties; the ruling confirms the lengths the state has gone to facilitate Shell’s experimental and highly dangerous project. In addition, the oil giant has effectively been gifted the substantial gas reserves in the Corrib field, estimated to be worth at least €10 billion [£8.5 million].
The Enterprise Energy Ireland consortium first discovered gas in the Corrib field, 80 kilometres off the Mayo coast, in 1996. Following Shell’s buyout of Enterprise Oil’s 45 per cent share in the consortium, the oil giant became the leading shareholder in the consortium, which included Statoil, the Norwegian state oil company and Marathon Oil.
The proposed construction of an onshore high pressure raw gas pipeline across unstable bog placed at risk the health, safety and livelihood of the community in north-west Mayo. Yet, throughout the last decade, the Twenty-Six County state has consistently intervened in order to support the interests of one of the world’s most powerful oil corporations.
Amongst other measures, the company has benefited from the sale of 400 acres of state land at Ballinaboy, which facilitated the construction of the onshore refinery; Shell was the first private company in the history of the Twenty-Six County state to be granted Compulsory Acquisition Orders over private land, a decision that led to the imprisonment of the Rossport Five; planning decisions upholding the safety concerns of local residents have been overturned including An Bord Pleanála’s original refusal to grant permission for the refinery at Ballinaboy.
Following An Bord Pleanála’s refusal to grant planning permission for the refinery in 2002, the Dublin government granted Shell executives a private meeting with the then taoiseach Bertie Ahern, following which Shell resubmitted a planning application. An Bord Pleanála overturned its original decision and granted Shell permission to build the vast refinery, so vast that it suggested Shell’s interests in offshore oil and gas reserves extended well beyond the Corrib gas field.
The Dublin government has also afforded Shell the full protection of the state and, at times, the small rural area around Erris has resembled a militarised zone. In 2008, when the pipe laying ship the Solitaire arrived in Broadhaven Bay, hundreds of uniformed Gardaí joined the Public Order Unit, the Emergency Response Unit and the Special Branch onshore, while two Twenty-Six County navy ships and the Garda Water Unit patrolled the waters around Broadhaven Bay. To date, the state has spent €14 million [£12 million] on policing operations in defence of Shell’s interests.
One of the key conclusions of this latest An Bord Pleanála ruling relates to the management of the Twenty-Six County state’s management of its vast oil and gas reserves, estimated by official Dublin government reports to be worth approximately €600 billion [£510 billion]. Bizarrely, the planning authority concludes that the development of the Corrib gas field will “provide substantial benefit for Kilcommon, Erris, Mayo and for Ireland”. Clearly, the criminal give away of our oil and gas reserves has bypassed An Bord Pleanála. The development of Corrib and other fields dotted around the west coast will significantly boost the profits of Shell and the other corporations involved in this project. Neither the people of Mayo nor the people of Ireland will benefit from this project, or other future developments.
Indeed, Wikileaks reported that Shell executives estimated there were another “twenty Corribs” off the west coast of Ireland. While domestic gas users will pay full market price for the gas pumped from Corrib, Shell will pay zero royalties to the state and just 25 per cent on declared profits; the company can avail of a 100 per cent tax write off against profits on capital expenditure for exploration, development and production. According to a comprehensive Afri report on the giveaway, “the Corrib gas field will probably be half depleted before any tax is paid at all.” It is clear then who really benefits from the development of the Corrib gas field.
In a cynical attempt to buy off opposition, An Bord Pleanála has further recommended that Shell establish a ‘community gain investment fund’ of €8.5 million [£7.2 million]. No doubt, this particular suggestion came from Shell, a company well versed in the politics of so-called Corporate Social Responsibility. It is a strategy that allows corporations such as Shell to mask their destructive activities behind a veil of ‘social responsibility’. The charity Christian Aid exposed Shell’s cynical attempts to buy off communities in the Niger Delta, a region that has suffered gravely from Shell’s environmental degradation. According to Christian Aid, between 1997-2004 Shell invested US$361.8 million in community development projects in the Niger Delta, yet the region was a “veritable graveyard of projects…[with]…water systems that do not work, health centres that never opened and schools were lessons were never taught”.
The small rural community of Erris has bravely resisted attempts to force through this highly dangerous experimental project and campaigned for the renegotiation of the deal that criminally handed over Irish oil and gas reserves to multinational corporations.
The Shell to Sea campaign has illuminated the rotten, corrupt nature of the Twenty-Six County state. It is a state where the writ of multinational corporations runs, while, simultaneously, the rights of citizens are trampled upon. The forces of the state have protected the profits of powerful oil corporations, while those protesting against the giveaway of our oil and gas reserves have been vilified, beaten and imprisoned.
It is ironic that this ruling has been made in the dying days of a discredited government, representing yet another shameful legacy of Fianna Fáil hegemony.
While Shell may have won this round, the campaign is far from over. éirígí’s commitment to Shell to Sea remains resolute and the party commends the bravery and resilience of those in Erris who have campaigned against this shambolic and corrupt project for over a decade.
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