From Socialist Voice, November 2006

Dempsey dances (again) to Shell’s tune

Noel Dempsey’s recent refusal to allow another public inquiry into the exploitation of the Corrib Basin fossil fuel reserves presents us once again with the unedifying spectacle of an Irish ministerial marionette dancing to the tune of his Shell puppet-masters.
    Dempsey’s arrogant assertion that there is “nothing new” in the proposal of the Shell to Sea campaigners is disingenuous and gives us to understand that all options have been fully considered, when clearly this is light years from being the case.
    His posture demonstrates once again his blatant disregard for the health and safety concerns of Erris residents and a contempt for democratic procedures that should worry all citizens.
    Briefly, Rossport residents argue that their health and lives are being placed at risk by the running of six miles of piping carrying toxic and corrosive gas close to where they live, from the Corrib Basin to an inland processing terminal at Béal an Átha Bhuí.
    Independent expert analysis of a highly technical and scientifically competent nature fully justifies their fears. This analysis, by the American company Accufacts Inc.—which brought a wealth of expertise in the area of pipeline design to bear on the Rossport problem—also warns of the health risk to local residents inherent in the “cold venting” procedure, whereby untreated toxic materials extracted from the raw gas at the processing terminal are to be released into the air. High levels of leukaemia and respiratory complaints accompany this procedure.
    The only option that would satisfy these legitimate concerns of the Erris residents is the offshore processing of Corrib Basin gas—an option that Shell spokespersons are at pains to rubbish, without giving a single convincing reason other than that it would be “uneconomic.”
    What does “uneconomic” mean for the Corrib Basin oil cowboys? The market value (December 2005) of the Corrib and surrounding fields for Shell and its partners is in excess of €50.4 billion. With a fossil fuel shortfall in the coming years, this value is certain to increase appreciably.
    The managing director of EEI in Ireland, Andy Pyle, holds that processing the gas on a shallow-water platform is not economically viable, estimating its cost at €360 million. In other words, out of the megaprofits it will make from the Corrib Basin reserves Shell is unwilling to concede the microchunk needed to guarantee the well-being of the local population. Should we be surprised, though? According to The Other Shell Report, 2004, Shell’s commitment to human rights and development is “paper thin.”
    “Shell continues to hold on to an industrial infrastructure that is hazardous to people and the environment, to operate ageing oil refineries that emit carcinogenic chemicals and other harmful toxins into neighbourhoods, to neglect contamination that poisons the environment and damages human health, to endanger the survival of species and negotiate with local governments for substantial environment controls.”
    Is the fear that the general public may become aware of these facts the real reason why Noel Dempsey is at such pains to stifle public debate on the Shell to Sea issue?
    (The Accufacts analysis and the whole background of the Shell to Sea dispute are available in The Great Corrib Gas Controversy, a publication of the Centre for Public Enquiry—mandatory reading for all who would be fully informed about this question.)
[TMS]

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