A local resident last week blocked the entrance gate to a Shell Inc. construction site for which there is no planning permission, refusing to move until proof was provided that Shell’s works on the site are legal.
The standoff began the latest incident in the ongoing dispute over a high-pressure gas pipeline being constructed by Shell Oil & Gas through part of north county Mayo. The pipeline and an onshore gas refinery are intended to facilitate the firm’s exploitation of the Corrib gas field, the first major natural gas discovery in Ireland since 1973.
Local people noticed that works were underway in Pullatomish last Monday, despite the fact that Shell has not received planning permission for the pipeline from the planning authority, An Bord Pleanala.
Without the appropriate permission, the works currently underway, such as borehole drilling, are understood to be illegal.
On Wednesday of last week, a local resident blocked the entrance gate to the site with her car for two hours. A Shell vehicle remained on the other side of the gate unable to move, with a handful of security standing around the vehicle and filming the people who had gathered on the public road.
The local person blocking the gate rang the Gardai police, informing them that there is work going on without planning permission, and asked them to come investigate.
When gardai arrived on the scene “they were only interested in facilitating the work”, according to a member of the Shell to Sea group.
“They did not address the person who had made the call to them, but went first to the IRMS Shell security on the other side of the gate.
“Immediately they ordered the driver to move her vehicle, without questioning the legality of the construction work.”
They later physically removed the resident’s vehicle and set up their own blockade.
The site in Pullatomish is where the proposed route of the pipeline crosses back over the estuary from Rossport South towards the refinery at Bellanaboy. It is Shell’s privately owned land, although planning permission rules still apply.
Shell has still not yet received planning permission from An Bord Pleanala for the onshore pipeline, and there are no notices from Mayo County Council displayed at the site showing permission. The only signs up on the fencing read ‘Danger’ and ‘Construction Site’.
The land on which Shell is drilling drains into the adjacent Sruth Fhada Chonn estuary Special Area of Conservation and Special Protected Area.
“Whether Shell’s arrogance to start this work comes out of the assured knowledge that they will get the planning permission or as a way to test how far they can take it before any authorities question their actions is unknown, said the spokesperson.
“What is clear is that if Shell are not even waiting for planning permission, they won’t wait long after it is granted to start pushing through the onshore pipeline without local consent.
Erris community group Pobal Chill Chomain sought further clarification from the planning board on the status of the works.
Shell later said it is conducting “authorised” geotechnical work on the in advance of a decision on its application for a new onshore pipeline route.
It has still not confirmed if the works have received the necessary permission.