The decision by Shell to process the natural gas from the Corrib field off north-west Ireland at a site 8 kilometres inland precipitated the bitterest of the current environmental battles and may have far reaching consequences. At the time of this note, September 2003, the initial 2001 planning application is in ruins, undermined by the Appeal's Board's hydrogeological expert, who demonstrated that the removal and storage on site of vast amounts of peat from the boggy Coillte site to excavate for the plant would be unstable and a danger to public health. Many fundamental questions remain: why were alternative sites not properly examined? Why did the normal checks and balances in the licensing system not work?
As we write, a new Major Infrastructure Bill is due to be published by the Government to fast track these kind of developments through the planning system and to avoid delays by environmental objectors in the planning system. Added to this, it is widely rumoured in Mayo that a new planning application will then be prepared, and the ill located and ill advised plant will be forced through on the residents.
Here we list some of the documents and coverage that will allow you to follow some of the case, on which members of FIE and their legal advisors invested astonishing amount of voluntary work. Search our Papers Today site for more. The cost of this case will not just be money, but human rights as the Government pursues its interests without consideration for the environment.
JUNE 22 2002
Read the Appeals Board Letter which detailed their concerns to the applicant. This is the to the developers which their failure to properly address led inevitably to the rejection of the plan: "It is considered based on the submissions made in connection with the planning application and appeal that in regard to the development concept proposed it has not been demonstrated that the remote siting of an onshore processing terminal eight kilometers inland from the landfall constitutes the best alternative..."
Most important, read the Inspector's Report of the five week long oral hearing, and try to read David Ball's technical report, where illustrations and simple language make clear the unsustainable nature of the proposal.
Much of the work for landing the pipeline in Broadhaven Bay, and indeed much of the pipeline from the terminal to Limerick, was underway before planning permission had been obtained for the location of the plant. At the landing site, residents blockaded the work which was destroying a cliff where sandmartin's a protected species, lived in numbers.
Read of our letter to the Minister, and his answer - "The Sand Martins are not in serious danger from the proposed works...". This defied the media photographs which showed dead birds and excavating at nesting sites.
"However, preparatory works currently under way will continue". This prompts the question: "Preparatory to what?" CORRIB GAS FIELD EXPLOITATION
A chara, - I welcome your publication of David Smith's succinct comments on the Corrib gas field exploitation (July 31st). On Monday, July 22nd, Shell/EEI announced postponement of pipe-laying through Broadhaven Bay. Bord Gáis subsequently announced suspension of any work on the Ballinaboy/Craughwell pipe line. This was seen as a rational response to the request from An Bord Pleanála for further information on the proposed refinery/terminal at Ballinaboy, North Mayo.
The board has requested that the developers, Shell/EEI:
1. Seriously consider alternative methods of bringing the gas ashore - i.e. cleaning at sea - together with a land-based reception terminal closer to potential Bord Gáis markets within Co Mayo.
2. Coherently address how it is intended to remove 600,000 cubic metres of peat, store it in repositories built on a sloping site with, to date, inadequate hydrological/hydrogeological supporting data.
3. Address the visual obtrusiveness and intrusiveness of a 40-acre plant site in a remote rural setting.
4. Comply with Health and Safety requirements as set out in the Seveso II directive (96/82/EC).
The developers' response is requested by September 20th.
In view of the foregoing, people would be forgiven for thinking that the Corrib gas project is suspended pending the final decision by An Bord Pleanála - that impression created, in fact, by Shell/EEI press releases. Unfortunately, that is not the case here in Erris. Shell/EEI are, as I write, continuing work at Glengad Beach, Pullathomas. This work involves trenching, pile-driving and dumping on a public beach. In an open letter in the Western People newspaper (July 31st) Mr Andy Pyle, newly appointed Shell managing director of EEI (Enterprise Energy Ireland) states:
"However, preparatory works currently under way will continue". This prompts the question: "Preparatory to what?"
The only rational explanation for the work being carried out at Glengad is that Shell/EEI intend to install the vital landfall connection component of the Corrib Gas Project. This work must be completed during August to avoid later adverse weather conditions.
The continuation of this work would appear to dismiss An Bord Pleanála's legitimate planning request that more suitable alternative sites be considered. Local people and concerned groups are now worried that, if the landfall connection is installed, Shell/EEI will then use the "balance of convenience" argument to put further pressure on the board.
It is insupportable that the beautiful Barony of Erris should be the site of environmental insult to add to that of national economic injury. - Is mise,
The Board has examined the appeal and is of opinion that certain information is necessary for the purpose of enabling it to determine the appeal. Our Ref: PL 16.126073
P.A.Reg. Ref: 01/900
Your Ref: Enterprise Energy Ireland Ltd.
Mr Tom Philips,
Tom Philips and Associates,
69-71 St. Stephen's Green,
Re: Gas Terminal.
Ballagelly South, Bellaraboy Bridge, Belmullet, Co. Mayo.
I have been asked by An Bord Pleanala to refer to the above-mentioned appeal
The Board has examined the appeal and is of opinion that certain information is necessary for the purpose of enabling it to determine the appeal.
In accordance with section 10 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1992 you are required to submit, within 3 months beginning on the date of this notice, the following information/documentation.
1. Having regard to the provisions of European Council Directive 97/11/EC (Environmental mpact Assessment) and in particular Article 5(3) which requires that an EIS shall provide the following information:-
"an outline of the main alternatives studied by the developer and an indication of the main reason for his choice, taking into account the environmental effects"
it is considered based on the submissions made in connection with the planning application and appeal that in regard to the development concept proposed it has not been demonstrated that the remote siting of an onshore processing terminal eight kilometres inland from the landfall constitutes the best alternative.
In this regard you are requested to provide a more complete comparison between the development solution as proposed i.e. the land based terminal, and the development of a shallow water fixed steel jacket terminal.
This comparison of alternatives should in the case of the shallow water off shore terminal include an appraisal of the opportunity for the development of a different onshore receiving terminal in the Mayo area with particular reference to both the Killala/Ballina or Westpoint/Castlebar areas and compatibility with current development strategies for the Mayo and the BMW region. In the case of the land based terminal as proposed the comparison should also take account of the serious concerns expressed in Items 2 & 3 of this request regarding the development of the site in the manner proposed.
In comparing these alternatives you are requested to provide information in relation to relative costs so as to assist in the overall assessment of the alternatives.
2. Having regard to the sloping nature of the site and to the inadequacy of site investigations and detailed design relating to the proposed peat repositories and the likely instability of the proposed containment bunds, of the waste peat to be stored in the peat repositories and of the underlying peat it is considered that there would be an unacceptable risk to the safety of the public and the public road (R314) and a risk of pollution as a result of a peat slide.
Below is a summary of the main weaknesses, design problems and omissions identified based on information received in the planning application and the appeal together with the submissions made to the oral hearing:
¬? The initial designs for the peat repositories were provided in the EIS. No site specific investigation of the proposed peat repository had been carried out at the time the EIS was written and therefore the designs were essentially conceptual.
¬? The designs for the peat repositories appear to have remained conceptual up to, and including, the oral hearing.
¬? There were references in the oral hearing to detailed designs being drawn up by potential contractors, and agreed or approved by the developer, and there was mention of alternative foundation designs for the retaining bund foundations, but none of these more detailed designs were presented for the Board's consideration.
¬? The basic conceptual design for the retaining bunds was presented as just two options. The bunds were to be laid either directly onto the peat and resting on the 'mineral soils' of the lower overburden, below the peat.
¬? The founding of the bunds on the mineral soils is essentially a sound design, but the natural peat varies in thickness, and the amount of material available to build a bund is totally dependent on the amount of suitable material available from the excavation of the terminal. Building a bund by the second alternative method in five metres thickness of peat would require a much larger amount of fill material than building a bund in two metres of peat. The bund sides are not vertical. They slope, and therefore a 4-5 metre deep bund foundation would be wider, and require more fill material.
¬? The developers have not sought planning permission for a development that involves a large scale importation of rock or granular fill for the construction of deep retaining bunds.
¬? In fact the developers have explained that no material will be imported from quarries for this purpose.
¬? Because there is this restriction, all the designs illustrated in schematic representations of the bunds show the bunds resting on a geotextile mat directly on the natural peat slope.
¬? Some representations of the bunds show the bund resting on the peat with the base of the bund flush with surface. Others show the base of the bund an unspecified depth below the peat surface as if it has sunk into the peat, or been cut into the peat. In all cases peat was shown below the base of the bund.
¬? It is therefore assumed that in the absence of any other more detailed designs or alternatives that some of the bunds will be resting on peat. Evidence given in the oral hearing confirmed that this would be so.
¬? It is therefore correct to assume that the existing peat will wholly, or in part, form the foundation of the retaining structures that will keep the waste peat in place on the slope.
¬? Therefore the characteristics, integrity, strength and condition of the peat in the peat repository becomes very important.
¬? Peat compresses when stressed by a heavy weight or structure placed upon it. The pressure on the peat below the load can break down the weak structures in the peat and the peat can begin to flow out from under the load. This can happen slowly or rapidly and the load can slump into the peat or slide with the flow of peat.
¬? The proposed perimeter and internal containment bunds will compress the underlying peat. These bunds will sink. No specific details have been provided to state how quickly the bunds will sink and how much additional fill material will be needed to maintain their height at two metres to retain the peat stored behind them.
¬? It is calculated that if all bunds sink or are placed two metres below the present peat surface that an extra 113,000 cubic metres of fill will be required. If this is not available from within the site excavation then it will need to be imported by road.
¬? Determining if, or under what loading conditions, the peat could break down and behave like a liquid is important.
¬? It appears that no in situ measurements have been made, or field trials carried out on the proposed peat repository areas, to determine the probable behaviour of the peat under the actual alignment of the proposed retaining bunds and haul roads.
¬? The schematic representation of the likely position of internal bunds and haul roads was only received on the last day of the hearing. The absence of this basic planning layout perhaps suggests that the developers wish to keep design options open, but also it can lead to an impression that the developers are not sure how the peat repository will be constructed.
¬? The main measurements in the peat repositories have been to determine the water levels in the peat and the nutrient levels of the upper peat. The degree of humification of the peat has been described, but its strength has not been determined. The strength of the peat will vary with depth and in different places in the repository. It is not uniform.
¬? It is known that existing drainage from previous land use, either cut into, or installed below, the skin of the upper peat can effect the pore pressures in the main body of the peat. When drainage is taking place the pore pressures are reduced and this helps stabilise the peat, but when they are rapidly saturated and drainage is blocked the build up in pore pressures can destabilise the peat.
¬? It is of concern that details particularly of the hidden drains are not available and the consequences of loading the in situ peat and drains with saturated waste have not been discussed.
¬? It is clear from the detailed contour map of the main peat repository that the repository is going to be placed in a gently sloping valley, the drainage axis of which is near the centre axis of the repository. Therefore rather than the peat waste being a mound from which water flows out on all sides into lateral drains, it is instead a basin where the water tends to flow into the centre.
¬? The impact of concentrating both surface water runoff on the waste peat surface and subsurface drainage within the peat debris, has not been addressed.
¬? There have been no specific provisions for leading the surface runoff from the waste peat into the settlement lagoons.
¬? There have been no specific design details provided to show how the potential build up of high hydraulic heads behind the lowest level bund in the repository above the R314 road will be alleviated.
¬? There have been no specific design details for this bund relating to the fact that it is shown to be on thick peat just above a marked increase in slope at the centre of the bund.
¬? The plan showing the elevation of the peat behind this bund indicates that the bund may be four metres high at its centre. The stability of the peat below this high structure has not been specifically addressed.
¬? There have been no specific design details to describe why it is considered safe to excavate a perimeter drainage ditch at the foot of this bund. There have been no details provided to show the depth and width of this excavation at the foot of the bund.
¬? There have been no specific design details for the depth of the proposed excavation of the two pairs of settlement lagoons shown to be below this bund in the limited space between the bund and the R314.
¬? There have been no specific discussions of the potential impact of removing a significant depth and width of natural peat below the bund (for drains and lagoons) combined with the potential high head of water in the peat behind the bund. The impact of a high gradient between the level of water in the waste peat and the level of water in the drain or lagoons just below the bund has not been addressed.
¬? The information provided on the layout and design of the main peat repository and the smaller north-eastern peat repository is not adequate or coherent.
Attention is drawn to the recommendations made by W.S. Atkins Consulting Engineers in April 2001 and contained in the EIS and to the submission of TES Consulting Engineers at the oral hearing.
You are requested to provide detailed design proposals together with a method statement for the transportation and deposition of excavated peat and other unsuitable overburden material in the peat repositories as proposed which would not constitute a treat to public safety and which would minimise the risk of pollution in the foreseeable future.
Should alternative design proposals or methods of disposal of waste peat and other unsuitable overburden material be considered, the broader implication of such proposals for the environment including the road network should be identified and an amended EIS prepared.
3. It is considered that the development of the terminal at this location would have a significant environmental cost in the area in particular by reason of:-
(a) the visual obtrusiveness of the development when viewed from the west and travelling on the Belmullet-Ballycastle Road (R314),
(b) the visual intrusiveness of the development when viewed from the south and from local roads to the north-west and north-east of the site.
To enable a more comprehensive assessment of the landscape impacts of the proposed terminal you are requested to provide a full range of cross section drawings showing the proposed terminal set at 32 metres AOD and the surrounding topography with particular reference to the location, extent and height of existing tree plantations which are to screen the proposed structures and ameliorate the visual impact. These sections should also be developed to depict the evolution of proposed planting and tree felling over the predicted life of the terminal.
Attention is drawn to viewpoint 1 and viewpoint 10 of the photomontages and to the TES drawings submitted to the oral hearing in February 2002. These contour drawings appear to indicate, together with site inspection, that the tops of the trees in the general south-western corner of the overall site are below the proposed floor level of the terminal, at 32 metres AOD.
You are further requested to compare the landscape section drawings required above to each of the photomontages submitted with the EIS.
4. Having regard to the provisions of Council Directive 96/82/EC (Seveso II) in relation to land use planning (Article 12) and to the submissions at the oral hearing of the National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health, the designated Central Competent Authority for the purposes of the Directive, the Board is not satisfied, on the basis of the submissions made in connection with the planning application and appeal and at the oral hearing, that the proposed development would not give rise to an unacceptable risk to members of the public due to the proximity of the terminal site to residential properties and areas of public use to which the Directive applies.
You are requested to provide the information necessary to allow the NAOSH to make recommendations to the Board regarding the acceptability of this proposed development under Seveso II or alternatively submit revised proposals which satisfy the requirements of the NAOSH.
If the information required is not received before the end of the specified period, the Board will dismiss or otherwise determine the appeal without further notice to you in accordance with section 11 of the 1992 Act. Your submission in response to this notice should be received by the Board not later than 5.30p.m. on 20th September, 2002.
Please quote the above appeal reference number in any further correspondence.
I understand that officials of D??chas have been in close consultation with Enterprise Oil in recent days, as a result of which they are satisfied that the Sand Martins are not in serious danger from the proposed works Oifig an Aire
Office of the Minister AN ROINN COMHSHAOILAGUS RIALTAIS
DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Mr Tony Lowes Director
Friends of the Irish Environment Allihies
4 July 2002
Dear Mr Lowes
Thank you for your fetter of 30 June 2002 in connection with the proposal by Enterprise Oil to undertake controlled blasting works pursuant to its foreshore license for the Corrib Gas Field Development.
This license was granted following an environmental impact assessment determined by the then Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources and in relation to which D??chas, the Heritage Service was fully consulted. The works in question, and their implications for the natural environment, were addressed as part of this process.
In relation to the present position, I understand that officials of D??chas have been in close consultation with Enterprise Oil in recent days, as a result of which they are satisfied that the Sand Martins are not in serious danger from the proposed works. I am informed that the works in question are close to, but not within, the nesting area of the Sand Martins and that a specific danger to them is not likely to arise.
As regards your reference to the question of an offence under the Wildlife Acts 1976 and 2000, Section 22f5) (h) of the 1976 Act provides for exceptions relating to the carrying on of building operations or works of engineering construction, which appear to be relevant in this case.
Subject to the above, D??chas personnel will continue their normal monitoring of the Broadhaven Bay SAC with a view to the proper observance of heritage and wildlife legislation. In light of the circumstances explained, the suspension of the present work by Enterprise Oil is not called for by nature conservation requirements.
[Signed]~ Martin Cullen TD
Minister for the Environment and Local Government