Shell to Sea: the struggle against the gas pipeline and refinery in Ireland - background and updates

Shell Erris

In Erris, a remote area on Ireland’s Western Atlantic coast a consortium of multinationals: Shell, Statoil and Marathon, supported by the Irish State, is proposing to build a dangerous, experimental raw gas pipeline and gas refinery. But they are being stopped...

This news feature contains background information and updates on the struggle and related developments.

Background information
Pipeline and refinery
A recent, independent safety analysis by US-based pipeline consultants, Accufacts, found: “The Corrib pipeline is not a ‘normal’ pipeline, given its potential to operate under exotically high pressures and because of unknown gas compositions associated with gas field production. This can seriously increase the likelihood of pipeline failure.” The Accufacts safety analysis states that: “pipeline routing should be at least 200 metres away from dwellings and 400 metres away from unsheltered individuals to avoid massive casualties and/or multiple fatalities.”

The refinery will be a large combustion plant, with nine chimneys, some 140ft high, releasing carbon dioxide and methane. Air and water emissions from the refinery would pollute the local environment in an area characterised by poverty, institutional neglect and high outward migration.

The Irish state has facilitated Shell in this project. In 1975 for oil and gas exploitation in Ireland the terms were between 8% to 16% production royalties to the state and a 50% tax rate. In addition there could be an up to 50% state participation in the exploitation of any find, as the establishment of a state energy company was planned. Moreover gas was sold to state companies at a reduced bulk discount.

Successive governments between 1985 and 1992 whittled this away to a situation where there are no royalties, no state participation and a 25% tax rate. Furthermore there is a 100% tax write-off, meaning companies can count their production, development and exploration costs as ‘tax’ and hence pay less tax or conceivably no tax. Laws were changed to allow Shell to use private land through a Compulsory Acquisition Order. State-owned forestry was sold to Shell for the refinery site. Essentially this is a great gas giveaway, while underfunded public services go down the tube. The Privatisation of natural resources is no aberration, when the same is planned for An Post, Dublin Bus and Irish Rail, with inevitable impacts on jobs and services; indeed, the downgrading of the public health service is to the advantage of the private sector. Big business enjoys very low tax rates and the super-rich benefit from tax evasion amnesties, while more than 85% of income tax is paid by PAYE workers.

From June last year onwards Shell’s construction of a raw gas pipeline, and a massive refinery, was brought to a halt by a wide variety of direct action and popular pressure. Actions included the simultaneous picketing of all Statoil petrol stations on a number of Friday evenings in Dublin (that is their busiest period), protests outside the Shell H.Q. in London, blockades of Shell terminals in Cork, a planned blockade of a pipelaying ship by fishermen (the ship was withdrawn), and continual picketing of all the construction sites associated with the development. An on-off libertarian protest camp in the area was also set up at the invitation of local campaigners. Despite the fact they had planned to build most of the project last year, next to no work has been done.

More information