Gas flares and noxious discharges have been emitted from the Corrib gas plant in north Mayo on New Year’s Eve, just weeks after the plant received a final permit to begin operation by Energy Minister Alex White.
In an alert broadcast to local residents via text message, Shell E&P Ireland had warned on Wednesday that the open burning of gas would take place ‘intermittently’ as gas was brought from the field 83 km offshore to land.
They admitted that the level of ‘flaring’ was “exceptional”.
“As the start up process continues ,there may be further intermittent flaring activity in the coming days,” they said.
Valves controlling the wells at sea were opened after final operating consent for the project was issued by the coalition government on December 29th.
The burning off of flammable gas is due to a sudden pressure rise within a plant, or a confirmed fire or gas release. Worldwide, it is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
In a video clip uploaded to Youtube, a Shell employee was seen celebrating the inferno in Mayo, which he said was a “fantastic way to spend New Year’s Eve”.
Residents living close to the Corrib gas plant in north Mayo have expressed fear and alarm over the intensity of the burning.
Aughoose farmer Gerry Bourke, who lives about a mile from the Ballinaboy plant, said that there was “nothing normal” about the burning gas, and said it was far more intensive and extensive than anything he previously witnessed.
He said it “lit up the sky” and was accompanied by a “low loud rumble like a supersonic boom”.
Diane Taylor, who lives in Glengad, witnessed the New Year’s Eve incident which she described as “frightening”.
“The sky over Broadhaven Bay was pure orange, and it seemed as if thick smoke was billowing over the hill behind me,” she said. “It looked like the hill over by Pollathomas was on fire.
“It was about 8.15pm, and I opened the door and could smell smoke which would burn your nose, so I came right back inside,” Ms Taylor said. She estimated it lasted for about a half hour to 45 minutes.
Mr Bourke said he had received the warning text, but it gave no indication of the extent.
“If this is normal, as Shell is saying, I don’t want to live like this,” he said.
Activists against the project believe the Dublin government “slipped” the consent to Shell during the quiet festive period.
Shell to Sea, the group who have campaigned against the project for several years, described the approval as “desperate and disgraceful”.
“The government pushed this through because it’s the quiet Christmas period,” Shell to Sea spokeswoman Maura Harrington said, adding: “Our campaign isn’t over by a long shot.”