Mayo Gas Terminal
Provokes Concern

The coast of Co. Mayo meets the Atlantic.

By Frank Shouldice, Contributor
June / July 2005

Residents in the west of Ireland have voiced concerns about planning authorities giving the go ahead to a proposed gas refinery on the Erris peninsula. The giant gas rig is being built by Royal Dutch Shell on a 160-acre inland site at Bellanaboy, Co. Mayo. The refinery will process gas from the 800-million Corrib gas field in the Atlantic Ocean, but local people believe constructing the rig offshore would be a safer option.

The Erris peninsula is a thinly populated region known for its desolate beauty and environmental treasures. The bogland peninsula boasts rare species of flora and fauna, and local residents question whether locating the gas rig at Bellanaboy will endanger what is regarded as some of the last natural wilderness left in Ireland. Building the terminal will require a clearance of some 650,000 cubic metres of peat from the bogland. Another major concern is an extremely high volume of heavy traffic during construction of the rig.

The gas terminal represents a further development in the Corrib gas project since significant reserves were first discovered in 1996. The reserve field is located in 349 metres of water some 50 miles offshore. Royal Dutch Shell is the major shareholder in exploiting the find, along with Marathon International and Statoil. Yet despite the huge scale of operations, the gas discovery will bring no more than 50 jobs to the region. All of the specialist work has been contracted out, and following a recent series of factory closures in north Mayo, residents see little value to the local economy, considering the environmental risk of the enterprise.

The controversy at Bellanaboy is not the first environmental protest to occur recently in the region. Many local people in north Mayo suspect that the area’s high unemployment and low population density is marking it as a location for `dirty’ industries. In addition to the gas rig, Glancre Teo in nearby Geesala began operations to convert sewage sludge into fertiliser. Following protests by the Erris Action Group, the company was found to be operating without necessary planning permission. The Mayo County Council originally granted Glancre Teo an operating permit but has since decided that planning permission is also required. A decision is expected shortly on the plant’s future.

Another company, Irish Environmental Processes (IEP), proposes to convert the former Asahi plant in Killala into a recycling facility for asbestos. Local opposition has been organised as the North West Alliance Against Asbestos with a series of community meetings. IEP is an Irish company which operates under licence from a U.S. company named ARI Technologies. IEP maintains that ARI procedures have a proven safety record and that the proposed Killala facility would process asbestos only from Ireland. The matter is under consideration with the county council but Fine Gael councillor Jarlath Munnelly told the Irish Times that opposition to recycling asbestos was unanimous in the region. “Not since 1798, the year of the French, has there been such a unity of purpose in this area,” he remarked. ♦

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