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Once Upon a Time in the West: The Corrib Gas Controversy Paperback – 30 Sep 2010
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The definitive story of the battle between oil giant Shell and a small Irish farming community over the location of an onshore gas pipeline.
From the Back Cover
In a rural community in the west of Ireland, a bitter struggle continues between a multinational oil and gas giant and a small group of local residents.
In 1996 Enterprise Energy Ireland - which was later bought by Shell - discovered a significant reserve of natural gas off the coast of County Mayo. The local community welcomed the find, hoping it would bring significant benefits to the area. However, as details of the Corrib gas field project began to emerge, many people became concerned. There were fears about the safety of the inshore gas terminal and linking pipeline and about their effects on the environment.
As the project wound its way tortuously through the planning system, local opposition grew, culminating in the jailing in 2005 of five local residents, who became known as the Rossport Five. This galvanized the protestors, and north Mayo became a simmering cauldron of discontent, which has seen arrests and violent incidents continue to this day.
Irish Times correspondent Lorna Siggins has been reporting on the controversy from the outset. No one is better placed to unravel the twists and turns of this fascinating human drama and its political, cultural and environmental shockwaves.
In a rapidly changing Ireland this epic struggle between big business and local interests raises an uncomfortable question: what price are we willing to pay for progress?
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There are at least 3 interest groups in the local population in the Erris peninsula, where the gas field pipeline and refinery is located.
1> Those who support it unreservedly.
2> Those who support it but who have serious reservations about the safety of the project as currently planned and who want those reservations addressed.
3> Those who oppose it under any circumstances whatsoever.
The strategy of both the corporate interests involved, and government, has been to paint all protesters to this project with the ideological intransigence that is associated with group 3 above - the "Never, Never" group. This has succeeded in seriously damaging the way that the reasonable and legitimate concerns of group 2 above has been perceived by the wider population throughout the country.
There is another issue. Ireland has no income participation whatsoever in the harvesting of the gas from the Corrib field.
This may seem unbelievable, so let me restate it. The Irish state will earn no royalty on gas extracted from the Corrib gas field. Zero.
In 1987 the Fianna Fail Minister for Energy abolished all royalties on petroleum and natural gas extraction and removed the state's right to participation. Dick Spring, labour party former Minister for Energy (1983-1987), described this move as "an act of economic treason". The justification given for this decision was to encourage exploration in Irish waters. But, zero participation...???
So, should the people of Erris worry about gas pipeline safety? Should they rely on the reassurance of a multi-national Oil Corporation that there is absolutely nothing to worry about? If you Google "natural gas pipeline accidents" you will find a disturbingly long list of pipeline accidents throughout the world, many resulting in multiple deaths to local residents. I think the Group 2 protestors above have a very valid case. This book puts that case in front of us and is to be commended for so doing.
I also could not help noticing that Siggins had much greater access to the protesters than she had to the developers. She consistently identifies protesters and politicians by their full names and titles while the "bad guys" are often referred to as "a Shell official". She has great insight into the motivation of the protesters, with whom she spoke regularly, but the developer's motives must be inferred from public statements, and leaked memos. This only adds to the imbalanced flavor of the book.
The history of Corrib had to be written, and now we have this work as the first chapter. Despite the its partisan nature, I would recommend anyone working on energy or industry or in government in Ireland or anywhere in Europe to hold their nose and read this book, and stay tuned as the story continues to unfold.