Dáil Éireann - Volume 546 - 06 December, 2001

Adjournment Debate. - Corrib Gas Field Development.

Mr. Kenny: The discovery of natural gas on the Corrib field 38 miles due west of Erris Head has given rise to great hope, controversy and a number of legitimate concerns. One of the groups for which I speak here is the Erris Inshore Fishermen's Association, which has about 150 members and represents fishermen from Blacksod Bay to Ballyglass and Porturlin and its environs. Most of these fishermen have trawlers ranging from 50 feet down in size, with crews of three or four. They have no objection, as such, to bringing natural gas ashore in the national interest but they have a legitimate concern about the proposal by Enterprise Oil to put the discharge pipe from the terminal at Ballinaboy at a point six kilometres west from Glengad Point.

The site for the terminal was chosen by Enterprise Oil on the basis of economics and ease of laying grounds. However, due to the canal connection at Belmullet and the flow direction of Achill Sound, Broadhaven and Blacksod Bays do not empty into the open sea on the ebb tide or fill from the open sea on the flow. Broadhaven [197] Bay empties into Blacksod Bay and fills in the reverse direction.

On a test carried out by Enterprise Oil, the dispersal of the dye from that test was found a considerable distance inside Sruwaddacon Bay, which means that any discharge from the pipe at the point proposed by Enterprise Oil will flow back into Broadhaven Bay. It means also that the scrubbing of the gas at the terminal point will include discharges of mercury, barium, cadmium and cobalt. The produced water will also have a heavy solidity content and regardless of the quantities, this will affect juvenile fish stocks. I assume that as further blocks of seabed are explored in the years ahead, and when other natural gas sources are found, these will be connected to the existing terminal point 38 miles west of Erris Head.

My point is that the Minister, at least for the moment, is the political protector of the livelihoods of the Erris inshore fishermen who have a very legitimate concern. As Enterprise Oil will lay two pipes from the well 38 miles west to Ballinaboy, it should be feasible, both economically and in the best interests of the fishermen's livelihood, to lay a third pipe, a discharge pipe, back into the well at source. It would mean that none of the contaminated or heavily salinated water would be discharged into Broadhaven Bay. Without the pipe, tidal conditions and the terrain of the land would wash the water back into the bay, inevitably affecting juvenile fish stocks and thus the livelihoods of the fishermen. The laying of a third pipe would also be in line with the OSPAR Convention for best available techniques. In 1999 £5 billion was spent on underwater and seabed technology and the project carried out at Troll in Norway has proven to be a success.

Mayo County Council has granted planning permission for the terminal, which is being appealed. While we genuinely share the vision and concept of bringing gas ashore, equally, we should take the very legitimate concerns of these 150 fishermen, their families and livelihoods into account. The way to do this effectively and permanently is to bring the discharge pipe back out to the well at source and return the discharge waters to the well from whence they came in the first instance.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. Treacy): The detailed environmental impact statement, EIS, submitted to the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, by Enterprise Energy Ireland on behalf of the company and its partners, Statoil Exploration (Ireland) Limited and Marathon International Petroleum (Hibernia) Limited was placed in the public domain by the company for consideration by interested parties which have until 27 December next to make written submissions or observations to the Minister. The company was also required to furnish the EIS to bodies prescribed in law, which also have until 27 December to provide written comments [198] to the Minister. Written submissions or observations received within the period will be referred to the company for comment.

The Deputy should be aware of the special public meeting arranged by the Minister which is taking place in Teach Iorrais, Geesala, this evening. It will be attended by representatives of the expert marine licence vetting committee and will report to the Minister. It will advise local people as to how to make submissions or observations on the EIS. To maximise the benefit to be derived from it, the meeting was arranged for approximately halfway through the consultation process on the EIS. In making written submissions or observations interested persons should clearly identify adverse effects they expect to arise from the project and how they should be addressed.

The EIS, together with submissions or observations and the company's comment thereon, will be fully and independently examined by the marine licence vetting committee with the assistance of consultants. The committee will report to the Minister in due course to allow him to make a decision and its report will be published. Until this examination has been completed, the Minister will not be in a position to take a view on whether the EIS is acceptable, or comment on the likely effects of the project on investment by fishermen or other persons in the area.

The Minister has asked me to assure the Deputy that if he gives the go-ahead for the project, it would be subject to detailed conditions to address any likely adverse impacts. In granting a petroleum lease for the project on 16 November 2001 under the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act, 1960, the Minister made it clear that the development of the reservoir could not commence until after he had approved a detailed plan of development and that the project would require the following authorisations from him: a foreshore licence under the Foreshore Acts, 1933 to 1998, to cover development on the foreshore, including pipeline laying; consent for the construction of the pipeline under the Gas Acts, 1976 to 2000; and consent to construct sub-sea structures under the Continental Shelf Act, 1968.

All sub-sea facilities would be controlled and monitored from the onshore terminal via an electronic hydraulic remote control system. Following processing in the terminal, the gas will flow through a transmission pipeline to connect to the natural gas ring main at Craughwell in the heart of south Galway. In addition to the plan of development application, the applications for a foreshore licence and consent to construct the pipeline are required to be accompanied by an EIS, as described.

In summary, the EIS is intended to cover all elements of the project from the wells, including the onshore terminal. In addition to the foregoing, planning permission must be secured from An Bord Pleanála for the onshore terminal at Ballinaboy Bridge and an integrated pollution [199] control licence from the Environmental Protection Agency, a process which will also involve a separate statutory consultation process. No gas can be produced in the Corrib gas field without specific approval from the Minister, which is known as consent for first gas and can only be given when the Minister is satisfied that all the authorisations to which I have referred have been secured and there is full compliance with all the conditions therein.

The successful bringing into production of the Corrib gas field would bring significant commercial and strategic benefits to the economy as a whole and also serve as an important component in the economic development of the west, facilitating the supply of natural gas for the very first time to domestic, commercial and industrial users in the region, including making gas available for power generation.

The Deputy has made a very reasonable case and explained to the House the various move[200] ments in tidal flow and the interconnection between the bays in this very beautiful part of the country. We should adopt a positive attitude because the conditions attaching to mineral development and the exploitation of natural resources in this country are such that we must efficiently exploit them economically and ensure they are environmentally correct for the country, the people and our natural environment. I will recommend to the Minister that he takes on board the Deputy's request.

The lease issued last month is the only one issued under either the Department's 1975 or 1992 licensing terms and effectively the first new production lease issued in the last 30 years. As such, it represents a milestone in Irish offshore exploration and production and confirms the Government's long-standing commitment to exploiting the natural resources of our country for the benefit of our people.

The Dáil adjourned at 7.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 7 December 2001.