Government gives go ahead for Corrib pipeline although safety concerns remain
The Advantica report, which 'gave the green light' to Shell's pipeline, in fact expresses serious safety concerns about the project and acknowledges that some critical safety issues are outside its terms of reference. Harry Browne reports
On 4 May Noel Dempsey, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, gave the go-ahead for the controversial Corrib gas pipeline to proceed despite saftey concerns outlined in a Government commissioned report published on the same day. The report on the Corrib gas pipeline, written by the Government-appointed consultants, Advantica, agrees on most of the safety concerns outlined in a highly critical Accufacts report, published by the Centre for Public Inquiry (CPI) in November 2005. Some of the other critical safety issues raised by Accufacts are "outside the scope of the Advantica safety review", the new report acknowledges.
The Advantica investigation – which would never have taken place without the Rossport protest – recommends a number of important changes in the proposed design and management of the Mayo pipeline, and criticises previous risk-assessment for Shell as falling short of "best practice".
The major change proposed by Advantica, and now adopted by the Government, is the addition of a valve near where the pipeline first reaches land, to ensure the gas pressure never exceeds 144 bar as it passes through Rossport.
But the Accufacts report, written by Dr Richard Kuprewicz, and which the Government consultants recognised as a legitimate analysis, questioned whether such a shoreline safety valve could be guaranteed to prevent gas pressures exceeding 144 bar. The pipeline is constructed to carry 345 bar pressure – a level which would cause fatalities within a wide radius if it ruptured.
In a report commissioned by Village, Dr Kuprewicz again asserts that there is no failsafe way to ensure that such a shoreline valve could be guaranteed to control pipeline pressure.
"Accufacts, in developing our original report, considered and rejected the potential to reduce or maintain pressures on the onshore pipeline via a pressure letdown/isolation valve at the beach/shoreline." He cites the possibility of instrument failure, and says Accufacts "could not conceive a failsafe scheme" in this case.
"Failsafe", he says, "is a term much misunderstood and misused." It does not mean that a system is guaranteed never to fail, but that if and when it does fail it will cause the minimum harm.
At Rossport, according to Dr Kuprewicz, "the terrain makes escape routes for the clustered population essentially impossible in the event of a rupture." He argues that greater consideration should be given to re-routing the pipeline away from Rossport and local residents through an unpopulated area.
"It is Accufacts' opinion that the pipeline re-route option difficulties have been substantially overstated," he concluded.
Accufacts has also said that serious questions remain about the dangers of corrosion of the pipeline itself.
"Serious concerns/questions remain regarding internal corrosion risks," Dr Kuprewicz said. "We agree with Advantica's recommendation to re-evaluate the internal corrosion rate prediction," citing the particular risks of corrosion posed to this pipeline. A recent BP oil spill in Alaska shows, he said, that "internal corrosion rates for pipelines associated with production facilities can still get away from the operator."
He said that Advantica and Accufacts both agree that there is insufficient detail in the Integrity Management (IM) programme proposed by Shell for the pipeline. This programme is vital to ensure that there is proper monitoring of the pipeline.
"Both Advantica and Accufacts are in very strong agreement that the critically important Integrity Management (IM) programme lacks sufficient detail to ensure confidence that the programme will be effective. Given the higher risks associated with internal corrosion as discussed earlier, lack of an effective IM programme should be of very grave concern," Dr Kuprewicz said.
He added that so-called "smart pigs", electronic devices that run through the pipeline inspecting as they go, should not be over-relied-upon, he says.
"While smart pig tools can prove highly advantageous, their effectiveness can be limited for a variety of reasons, one being changing corrosion rates... In addition, thick-walled pipe, such as that used for the Corrib pipeline, presents technical challenges that also limit the smart pig technology that can be applied to this system. It is critically important that... the capabilities of smart pigs to determine both external and internal corrosion not be overstated. An integrity management program utilising smart pig inspection for the Corrib onshore system would want to deal with risks associated with 1) external and internal corrosion, 2) pipeline movement, and 3) third party damage."
Text of Richard Kuprewicz's commentary for Village is at: www.villagemagazine.ie
^^1969 Marathon Oil awarded licence for offshore exploration
^^1978 Production from Kinsale begins
^^1979 Minister for Energy Des O'Malley sets up Irish National Petroleum Corporation
^^1987 Minister for Energy Ray Burke abolishes State royalties and State participation, and introduces 100 per cent tax write-offs for exploration and development costs
^^1993 Enterprise Oil awarded deepwater exploration licence for block 18/20, which contains Corrib gas field
^^1996 Enterprise Oil discovers the Corrib gas field
^^April 2000 First notices of Corrib gas project in Mayo newspapers
^^October 2000 Bord G·is announces plans to construct pipeline from processing plant site in north Mayo to national grid loop in Galway
^^November 2000 Enterprise Energy Ireland (EEI) applies to Mayo County Council for planning permission for a gas processing plant at Ballinaboy Bridge
^^July 2001 EEI submits further information to County Council; Minister for Marine and Natural Resources Frank Fahey convenes Marine Licence Vetting Committee (MLVC) to examine plan of development, foreshore lease and petroleum lease applications
^^August 2001 Mayo County Council grants planning permission; Rossport residents immediately appeal decision to An Bord Pleanála
^^15 November 2001 Frank Fahey introduces powers to grant compulsory acquisition orders for land along the pipeline route
^^March 2002 Government passes Gas Act of 2002. MLVC approves project with conditions. Report by consultant Andrew Johnston approves design of pipeline with minimal changes
^^April 2002 Shell buys Enterprise Oil. Frank Fahey issues consent for plan of development and consent for pipeline
^^April 2003 Bord Pleanála overturns Mayo County Council's decision to grant planning permission and cites grounds of instability of peat on site
^^December 2003 Shell re-submits planning application to Mayo County Council
^^October 2004 Bord Pleanála approves project
^^January 2005 Shell workers attempt to gain access to privately-owned land along route of pipeline in Rossport
^^April 2005 Shell seeks court injunction against landowners opposing entrance of Shell workers onto their land
^^May 2005 Minister Noel Dempsey admits that the independent review of the quantitative risk assessment (QRA) has been done by a company jointly owned by Shell and BP
^^June 2005 Shell applies for committal of men who have broken the injunction; Mr Justice John McMenamin jails five Rossport men for contempt of court
^^July 2005 Shell admits to constructing three-kilometre section of pipeline without consent; Minister Noel Dempsey requests Shell cease work on the project
^^30 September 2005 Shell drops temporary injunction. Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan releases the men
^^1 October 2005 Thousands rally in support of Rossport Five in Dublin
^^31 October 2005 The Minister announces that he has appointed Mr Peter Cassells to mediate between Shell E&P and the Rossport residents
^^7 April 2006 Rossport Five are told they will not be further punished but costs of the contempt proceedings against them are awarded to Shell E&P Ireland
^^3 May 2006 A number of safety measures for the pipeline are approved by Minister Noel Dempsey, following a report by risk analysts Advantica
^^4 May 2006 Shell MD Andy Pyle says on national television that an offshore option may be considered
^^5 May 2006 Speaking to Mayo media, Shell rules out an offshore option
This an edited version of a timeline in the Great Corrib Gas Controversy, published by the Centre for Public Inquiry.