Shell and Co. come to Mayo
Shell and Co. come to Mayo

The Corrib Gas Field off the west coast of Ireland is being developed by three multinational companies, headed by Shell. They intend to refine the gas in a forest which is 9 km inland. Shell intend to bring the offshore pipeline to the refinery through this 9 km stretch of land along and under the public road and in close proximity to houses.


Shell maintains that there is nothing exceptional about this pipeline compared to other gas pipelines operating safely in cities and towns in Ireland.

High pressure transmission pipelines operated in Ireland must adhere to ‘sales gas’ standards -- cleaned, odorised gas with pressure less than 80 bar and a mandatory separation distance of 70 metres from dwellings to conform with the code of practice of the National Safety Authority of Ireland [NSAI]. Maximum pressure in cities/towns is 4 bar.

The Corrib Gas pipeline is very different:

  • It is of an astounding 345 bar pressure (about 2,500 times car tyre pressure)

  • It will come ashore at Dooncarton in County Mayo, where there have been over 40 separate landslides

  • It will be ‘raw’ corrosive gas subject to massive slug build-ups over its 92 km length

  • It will have several high-risk 90 degree angles over its 9 km on shore length

  • It will be unodorised, so leaks cannot be detected

  • It will run alongside the public road for much of its length

  • It will not be possible to maintain even a 70m separation from houses and stay safely clear of the loose clay cliff face along the shore of the beautiful ‘Sruth Fada Conn’ estuary.

In the same trench, to operate the wells remotely there will be an electric power supply, high-pressure hydraulic fluid supply, and a methanol injection supply.

This amounts to some cocktail through notoriously unstable ground. Should there be a rupture of this high-risk pipeline, the consequences for man and the environment would be unquantifiable and, unbelievably, the Dublin government is carrying the responsibility for this unprecedented high-risk, high-pressure Shell pipeline. Why?

The Deal

Corrib Gas, worth at a conservative estimate, six billion euro, was given away by the Dublin government without any retention of state interest. The private multi-national oil companies will pay no royalties and with tax write-offs going back 25 years, they will pay no tax to this State. Any gas sold to the Government will be bought at commercial rates.

In order to bring the gas to market, Bord Gais [the Irish Gas Board] will build a 150 km pipeline from the refinery site to the National Gas Grid in Craughwell, County Galway. Bord Gais has refused to disclose the cost of this pipeline. Only 27% of the Corrib Gas reserve will to be sold to Bord Gais. The remaining 63% will be sold to private customers in competition with Bord Gais -- but through Bord Gais pipelines.


The proposed refinery site is surrounded by a cluster of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protected Areas (SPA). The National Parks and Wildlife Service which is entrusted with the protection of such sites has failed miserably in its duty under European law.

Emissions of 13 million cubic meters per day at an average temperature of 500 degrees centigrade will be released from this refinery and will be fall on these protected sites in the typically heavy rain of the area. There will be 240,000 kg. of gas released into the atmosphere each year. This will create formaldehyde which will rain down on villages and environemntally sensitive areas downwind of this refinery.

Two salmon rivers are in the catchment of this site. The site drains through one of those rivers into the special conservered area of Carrowmore Lake, which also provides drinking water for 10,000 people. An Inspector from An Bord Pleanala [Irish Planning Board] warned that through siltation, the lake could turn into a giant settlement pond from which it might never recover. Also, remaining peat in the refinery site is to be ‘stabilized’ by mixing in 36,000 tons of dry cement, with permission to repeat the procedure if the desired result is not achieved. Pollutants, including carcinogens, will end up in Carrowmore Lake through runoff.

Since the arrival of Shell at this site, the Ballinaboy River, which was Class A (i.e. pristine) for the previous 10 years, is now highly polluted. Angling has had to be suspended for the last two seasons in the Carrowmore Lake area.


The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) failed to take into account several scenarios as required under European law. Nevertheless, they stated in their report that the worst possible consequences would be caused by a full-bore rupture at the high-pressure gas pipeline and that the fatal effects from a jet fire could extend to over half a kilometer. Despite this, residents are expected to live and work within 70 meters of this pipeline!

There will be a constant risk of vapour cloud explosions through the ignition of clouds of gas emissions drifting downwind.

There will be a requirement for massive amounts of propane to be stored on site for a future gigantic refrigeration plant required as field pressure drops. Propane is extremely flammable with a flashpoint of 1 degree.

Over a thousand tonnes of gas ‘condensate’ will be stored on site and 3,604 tonnes will be incinerated annually for fuel use against all best international practice and EU law.

The hydrate inhibitor, Methanol is to be used. Methanol is highly flammable with a flashpoint of 10 degrees. It is extremely toxic and in incidence of small contamination causes blindness. Glycol is the industry preferred alternative and is much safer but is more expensive to use. A massive 3,629 tonnes of methanol will be stored on site in 5 giant tanks with an annual loss to the environment of 1,825 tonnes.

The HSA has stated in their report that ‘Uncontrolled release of each of these materials (condensate and methanol) into the environment, at sufficiently high volumes, is likely to result in a major accident to the environment’.

Road transportation

In order to build the refinery, 450,000 tons of peat has to be removed from the refinery site. Mayo County Council ‘upgraded’ a bog road through special areas of conservation to enable 800 loaded trucks per day for at least 6 months to transport the peat 13 km away. In the first week of operation, three trucks carrying this saturated peat went off the road. Work has been suspended to strengthen the supposedly well-prepared road.

One wonders what would happen should vehicles carrying propane gas or methanol go off the road as happened the trucks carrying peat? The emergency services are 80 km away. The transportation of dangerous substances by road does not come under the remit of the HSA nor does the pipeline, save for the 5m stretch within the refinery site thus protecting Shell personnel. No Authority or Agency is responsible for the health and safety of the public from the remaining 9 km of this pipeline.

High Court

People living along the route of this pipeline are greatly concerned about their safety and health. They requested to see the risk assessment upon which the Minister based his ‘consent’ for this project, before admitting Shell personnel onto their lands. This was refused. They were hauled by Shell before the President of the High Court for an injunction, whic required the men not to ‘interfere’ with the oil company’s pipe-laying plans.

At each of the four different sittings of the High Court, they requested to see the risk assessment. The President of the High Court granted Shell the injunction without allowing them the right to view the documents. They were subsequently denied a copy of the judgement.

Four men were jailed by the High Court in Dublin last week after Shell had sought the imprisonment of the men for not abiding by the injunction. Is this justice?

Potential Disaster

Should there be a rupture of this pipeline, the electric power supply will be severed. There is then total reliance on an automatic shut-down facility. If this fails, (and 30% of pipeline failures are due to faulty equipment), the operator will have lost control of the wells. It is a frightening scenario.

Is there is a solution to protect the environment in this sensitive location; to safeguard the health and safety of the public and to relieve all our ‘protective agencies’ from the shameful abdication of their responsibilities under EU law? Yes. Clean the gas offshore and bring it on land -- safely.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News