Wednesday, 14 December 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Dr. Cowley: I am grateful to be able to raise this matter on the Adjournment. There are two reports which are quite damning of the Corrib gas pipeline, namely, the recently published Advantica report and the report of the Centre for Public Inquiry, published by Mr. Richard Kuprewicz.
The latter report by the CPI revealed that the disputed pipeline carries a real and substantial risk of failure because of its potential to operate at extremely high pressures. The likelihood of system failure increased also because of the unknown gas compositions it is required to carry and the probability of internal corrosion. As a result of these findings the report concludes that the current proposed route is unacceptable because of its close proximity to people and dwellings.
The pipeline has a uniquely large rupture impact zone with potential for high fatalities. There are too many unknowns regarding the future operation of this pipeline, especially in the areas of gas pressure and gas composition that can lead to failure. The thick-walled pipe specified for use is not invincible to leak or rupture. The proposed pipeline will transport gas at high pressure in a raw state, containing metals and radioactive gases. There is compelling evidence to suggest that internal corrosion of the pipeline is likely. The maximum pipeline pressure has not been clearly demonstrated or documented and this is a grave deficiency. Difficulties with locating the gas processing plant offshore have been overstated, and routing analysis for the onshore system are seriously deficient.
The Advantica safety review also raises serious issues on the advisability of proceeding any further with the Corrib gas project as outlined. The value of Shell’s qualified risk assessment, QRA, and other material relied upon by those who claim this unique and exotic pipeline is safe is called into question. This report also validates the position of the Rossport five who spent 94 days in Clover Hill Prison over their objections to this pipeline. The report admits to its limited terms of reference regarding its alternative project design options and alternative pipeline design. Yet, ostrich-like, it seems to be accepted by the Minister that the project can proceed if certain things are done.
The report failed to specify minimum safety distances from the pipeline, as clearly specified by Mr. Richard Kuprewicz of Accufacts and the report by the CPI. Instead, the draft report tries to accommodate the Corrib gas pipeline shortcomings by suggesting that the pressure be reduced to 144 bar from 345 bar. This is the equivalent of trying to get a square peg into a round hole. Even the report questions whether this is possible. If this were possible, I doubt if anyone would trust Shell or its partners to ensure a safe pipeline pressure over time. Shell’s record in dealing with communities in Nigeria, Russia and elsewhere hardly engenders confidence in its ability to protect rights and the safety of local people. How can Shell be trusted when it illegally welded a 1.5 km section of pipeline?
I demand that the Government face up to its responsibilities. I ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to honour his ministerial responsibility by insisting that the Corrib gas project not go ahead as planned until it can be brought to safety. We all knew what was coming with the Advantica report. We knew that the Government forbade Advantica to inquire into the real safety questions, such as the production concept used by Shell, the route of the pipeline, the design of the pipeline and the real consequence and human casualties of the pipeline exploding.
The Advantica report ridiculously assumes that pensioners, women and children escaping a gas fireball or explosion can run 100 metres in 40 seconds and that the fields around Rossport have 20% in-built shelter. It also assumes that 90% of people can get out of a house, which is ridiculous as infants, small children and many old age pensioners sleep for part of the day. To assess that the pipeline has been designed to meet or exceed best international standards is nonsensical.
The Advantica report was set up as part of the Government and Shell strategy of persuasion, but it has not worked. It has had quite the opposite effect and people are as determined as ever that this pipeline will not happen as planned. The key recommendation of Advantica — that the pipeline pressure be capped at 144 bar — is just not possible. It cannot be technically guaranteed. As the Accufacts report made clear, no pipeline is impervious to failure and no valve can be a failsafe design. It is obvious that the two reports do not allow the Minister to give consent. To give consent would be reckless when there is a real danger here. The Minister must insist that Shell returns to the drawing board and reconfigures the entire Corrib gas project.
The Deputy asks if the Minister still intends to proceed with the Corrib gas pipeline. The Minister is not developing the Corrib project. Shell E&P Ireland is developing the project on behalf of the project partners. Whether or not the project proceeds is primarily a matter for Shell. The Minister has worked tirelessly to address the concerns of all, in particular the local community, with regard to this project. The Minister instructed that a comprehensive review of the health and safety aspects of the proposed Corrib gas onshore pipeline be undertaken in July 2005. Advantica was appointed in August and commenced work on 1 September 2005. Two days of oral hearings were held under the chairmanship of Mr. John Gallagher SC on 12 and 13 October 2005. The Department published the draft report of the safety review last Thursday. This report is now being studied by the developers and other concerned parties.
After 22 December, the authors, Advantica, will consider any comments received by that time and will proceed to prepare their final report. Following receipt of the final report, the Minister’s technical advisory group will make recommendations on the project to the Minister and he will make his decision based on these recommendations.
The draft consultants’ report makes a number of recommendations which Shell is considering. Only if Shell decides to implement those recommendations and any others which the Minister may impose on the company following advice from his technical advisory group is it conceivable that the project, as then configured rather than as currently proposed, could receive consent to proceed. The consultants’ report in its current draft states that the pipeline as proposed has been designed to meet or exceed appropriate standards and to best national and international practice. Advantica also states that safety considerations were properly taken into account during the design stage. The draft report makes a number of very specific recommendations for the construction and operation phase of the pipeline.
There are other inaccuracies in the Deputy’s statement. Advantica’s report does not state that the design pressure cannot be tolerated; it states exactly the opposite. It then goes one step further by stating that limiting the operating pressure to 144 bar will greatly increase safety for local people above the design level which itself exceeded the international norms. The feasibility of the reduction to safer levels of pressure is not questioned in Advantica’s report. Advantica does not detail how this should be done and it shall be for Shell to submit proposals for achieving this should the company decide to proceed with the project and for the Minister to have these evaluated. The Advantica report finds failings with the documentation dealing with valve control systems, and so it was not demonstrated to Advantica that satisfactory designs exist. Shell has to provide such satisfactory evidence. The absence of satisfactory documentation does not lead us to the conclusion that it is not feasible to achieve the appropriate pressure reduction. The Minister fails to understand why the Deputy has made a connection with the damaged facility in Hertfordshire in England. This was an oil products storage facility, not a refinery, as the Deputy stated. It was not a gas installation. Shell’s only interest in it was that its products were stored there in the past. Does the Deputy seriously mean what he has implied in his wording “...considering the refinery explosion in Hemel Hempstead in which Shell was involved also”? Does he seriously mean to imply that Shell was somehow involved in the explosion? I will give him the benefit of the doubt on this occasion, but this is just another case where ridiculous efforts have been made to try to establish the most tenuous of links between various parties and Shell.
Mr. Gallagher: There is more to be said on this matter and the time for that is when the final report of the consultants has been received. In the meantime I hope the Deputy will give serious consideration to the detail in the draft report and provide considered responses rather than alarmist and inaccurate “off the cuff” remarks.
The report merits time and study, and I commend it to Deputies and other interested parties for full consideration. It is extremely thorough work and has looked into matters in much greater detail than heretofore. The Minister welcomes the work, which has been carried out to investigate the relevant safety issues, and hopes that people can take a much more informed view about this project. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, welcomes input from interested parties during the period of public consultation up to 22 December 2005.
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