A small village at the centre of the Corrib gas controversy will be sliced in half by the newly-proposed pipeline route, campaigners claimed today.
Oil giant Shell insisted its alternative to the inshore section of its pipeline running through Rossport, Co Mayo, was twice as far from homes than was originally planned.
It also said the new route, unveiled after almost a year of revising the contentious project, would have a minimal impact on the nearby Sruwaddacon Bay and other designated conservation sites.
However, Shell to Sea, the organisation spearheading protests against an inland refinery at Bellanaboy, said the new route will actually worsen relations between the main backers Shell and the local people.
John Monaghan, campaign spokesman who lives in Rossport, said under the latest proposals the village will be physically divided by a huge gas pipeline barely under the surface of the ground.
“They are literally dividing a community now,” he said.
“They’ve tried to do it spending money here and there to buy some support for the project but they are now actually physically dividing the village of Rossport itself and that is not going to make them any friends.”
Mr Monaghan was adamant that burying the pipeline underground as it passes houses was only a superficial exercise that would add no extra safety measures.
“Half the people of Rossport will be enclosed by this pipeline,” he said.
“Half the village is between the [newly -proposed] pipeline and the sea. So in the event of an emergency the only way out for half is across the pipeline or across the bay.”
The campaigner said the new route will do nothing to resolve fundamental objections from local people and their fight would go on against any inshore refinery.
“The inland refinery is the cause of having to try and find an acceptable route,” he said.
“If they were to get an acceptable route – and we doubt that will ever be achievable or acceptable to the community on technical, social and environmental grounds – the refinery itself still poses a threat.
“If this is the only way that they see a solution to this problem then it will never go away.”
Shell said its newly-preferred option – labelled Route C1 – which will carry raw gas from a gas field 83 kilometres off the coast to the refinery at Bellanaboy was identified after 11 months of work by a consultancy group, RPS, it appointed to redraw the route.
It said the proposed alternative, a 9.2 kilometre pipeline, would come ashore at Glengad before crossing Sruwaddacon Bay into Rossport.
There it would continue in a north-easterly direction before twisting south-east through the commonage at the back of the village and onwards along the boundary of the Glenamoy Bog Complex Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
The route would then cut across Sruwaddacon Bay for a second time before continuing onwards to the Bellanaboy gas refinery.
PJ Rudden, group director of the Shell-appointed consultants RPS, said it was a very challenging process to identify a new route that would satisfy local people and protect special areas of natural beauty.
“Each route we studied had its pros and cons and Route C1 strikes the best balance between the competing priorities of community concerns, environmental issues and technical issues,” he said.
“It’s twice as far away from occupied housing compared to previously approved route and will have minimal impact on Sruwaddacon Bay and other designated conservation sites, such as the Glenamoy Bog Complex.”
But Mr Monaghan insisted the core dispute over an inshore refinery remains while the new plans would throw up several new problems including a section of pipeline through the Rossport commonage.
“They are going to have to secure consent from quite a number of landowners, several dozen landowners in that case. I don’t see them getting consent,” he said.
“Then it will be back to Compulsory Acquisition Orders and the same situation as in 2005 all over again.”
In 2005, the so-called Rossport Five – James Brendan Philbin, brothers Philip and Vincent McGrath, Willie Corduff and Micheal O Seighin – were jailed for 94 days for being in contempt of court over their opposition to work being carried out by Shell on their land.
The prison sentences sparked widespread protests.