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Shell gets go-ahead for controversial Irish pipeline

By Staff
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DUBLIN, May 3 (Reuters) Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell secured the right to start work on a 300 million-euro (9.1 million) gas pipeline in western Ireland on Wednesday after years of delays sparked by intense local opposition.

Shell can start work on the controversial pipeline off the County Mayo coast provided it meets strict safety conditions, the Irish government said.

Work on the pipeline, to transport gas nine kilometres (5.5 miles) inland from Shell's offshore Corrib field to a processing plant, was suspended last August to allow for an independent safety review.

The aim was to resolve a long-running dispute between Shell Exploration&Production Ireland and the residents of Rossport, County Mayo, who are worried about the high-pressure pipeline running past their homes.

They want the firm to process the gas on an offshore shallow water platform instead and their opposition has held up the billion-dollar gas project by at least four years.

The Corrib field, containing 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas 70km off the Mayo coast, was discovered in 1996 and was Ireland's first significant offshore find since Kinsale Head off the southwestern coast in 1971.

Five men, known as the Rossport 5, spent almost 100 days in jail last year for protesting against the building of the pipeline, and campaigners said their fight would continue.

Their imprisonment -- for contempt of court for breaching an injunction not to obstruct the building of the pipeline -- triggered protests across Ireland and calls for higher taxes on oil companies.

Engineering consultants Advantica, which carried out the review, said providing its recommendations were followed, the pipeline would be safe.

The main conditions it stipulated were for the gas to be piped ashore at a lower pressure than Shell had originally wanted and for an independent body to supervise the project's design and maintenance.

''This combination of developments deals very comprehensively with the concerns about safety that some people earnestly held,'' Irish Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Minister Noel Dempsey said in a statement.

''I now call on all parties to engage constructively on the other issues relating to this project.'' Shell, which says the pipeline will be built to ''world-class standards'', welcomed the report and said it hoped it would lead to a resolution of the dispute.

''I hope these recommendations will help to address the genuinely held concerns of the people in the local community,'' said Andy Pyle, Shell Ireland's managing director, adding the company would issue a full response in the coming days.

The Irish Republic currently imports most of its natural gas from the UK, but Shell says Corrib gas has the potential to initially supply some 60 percent of annual average gas demand.

''The primary concern that people have with the placing of a production pipeline through a village and in close proximity to people's houses is the consequences of an accident,'' Mark Garavan of Shell To Sea told Irish state broadcaster RTE.

He called the review a ''post-hoc justification of a decision already made.'' REUTERS SBJ ND2026

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