Meanwhile, major questions have been raised by the analysis conducted for the Centre for Public Inquiry (CPI) which claims the proposed route of the Corrib gas pipeline is not acceptable on safety grounds because it runs too close to people’s houses.
Claims the pipeline cannot rupture from internal corrosion “need to be seriously challenged and investigated”, according to CPI.
An Bord Pleanála chairman, John O’Connor, said: “The board was not subjected to any external pressure in relation to the Corrib Gas project.”
He was concerned the public might infer from the CPI’s report that the board “might have been less than fully independent in its treatment of appeals relating to this development”.
In April 2003, he reiterated, the board refused permission for a gas terminal and other works at Bellanaboy Bridge, Co Mayo on the basis the integrity of the peat repositories could constitute an unacceptable risk to health and safety and potential water pollution.
“In doing so, the board had regard to an inspector’s report and recommendation to refuse permission,” Mr O’Connor said.
In October 2004, the board granted permission for a new application for a gas terminal at Bellanaboy Bridge. In doing so it again had regard to an inspector’s report and recommendation to grant permission.
In June 2003 the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association (IOOA) requested, by letter, a meeting with the board. The board, by letter dated July 2003, informed the IOOA that a meeting would be arranged for that September. The meeting was recorded in the board’s annual report for 2003.
Mr O’Connor said: “As is evident from the foregoing, it is entirely wrong to make any connection between the Taoiseach’s meeting with Shell representatives on September 19, 2003 and the board’s meeting with the IOOA which was arranged the preceding July. It is also wrong to infer the board’s meeting with the IOOA entailed special treatment for this application.”
Meanwhile, Andy Pyle, Managing Director Shell E&P Ireland (SEPIIL) said: “The suggestion contained in the CPI’s report that SEPIL’s planning application for the gas processing terminal in Ballanaboy was in some way fast-tracked by An Bord Pleanála is simply not credible. The planning process for the proposed gas terminal took in total four years from initial application to final consent. It has been through the most exhaustive and lengthy public consultation and regulatory process and the final project design was fully endorsed by the relevant authorities.”
SEPIL “has at all times conducted its relationships with all statutory and regulatory authorities in an appropriate and ethical manner. SEPIL strongly denies the allegation it was granted unusual access to government bodies,” he said.