This is one of the biggest stories in the country. . . . Either corporate rule will continue to dictate in this country, or the will of the people. Maura Harrington of the Shell to Sea Campaign, June 2, 20091 . . .
Has my vision of Shell being an accepted and welcome part of the community become a reality? Not fully. But I believe we are on the right path. . . . I hope that in another two years, when gas from the Corrib field is fuelling homes and businesses around the country, that we will have shown—through our actions and safe delivery of the Corrib project—that this vision will be well on the way to being a reality. Terry Nolan, Managing Director, Shell E&P Ireland, May 3, 20082
ppointed deputy managing director of Shell E&P Ireland (SEPIL) in May 2006, Terry Nolan had looked forward to returning home to Ireland.3 Twenty eight years earlier, like many well-educated Irish of his generation, he had left an Ireland that languished in the economic doldrums and offered few career opportunities to embark on an international career with Royal Dutch Shell. He had worked abroad ever since.
His Irish nationality was not irrelevant to his selection for the post. After all, his primary responsibility was to help successfully deliver the Corrib gas project, of which Shell owned a 45 percent share and was the operating partner. It was a project that had gone awry, as Shell faced determined resistance from those who wished to see the gas processed at sea rather than ashore. The project had been delayed for years, and Shell’s reputation with some in both the local community and further afield had suffered. Completion of the project remained a formidable challenge. Trust was in short supply, emotions ran high, and dialogue with those opposed to the project had become virtually impossible.
Trying to spearhead change, Nolan attempted to constructively engage the community. SEPIL hosted “open days” in local towns and offered public tours of the processing plant then under construction in County Mayo (more than 1,500 people—mostly locals—visited the site). It also created a social investment fund for community organizations. Upon his promotion to managing director in May 2008, Nolan felt that good progress had been made. But a core of protestors, who had consistently opposed the project, disagreed. Now in late 2009, this part of County Mayo stood in some contrast
Copyright © 2011 by the Case Research Journal and by James J. Kennelly and Trevor Mengel. This research was supported by the Skidmore College Faculty/Student Research Program. The authors thank Case Research Journal Associate Editor Arieh Ullmann and three anonymous reviewers for their wise and helpful comments and suggestions.
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to the rest of Ireland, which was mired in a severe economic recession. In fact, the gas processing facility at Bellanaboy represented the largest construction project in the country, with a workforce of approximately 1,000 still on site (Figure 1). Yet the most difficult challenges were perhaps still ahead. Although the processing facility was nearing completion and the underwater pipeline had been laid as far as its landfall at remote Glengad Beach, the final eight kilometers of onshore pipeline still needed to be installed to finalize the connection between the offshore wellheads and the processing facility (Figure 2).
The plan for this segment was currently before the An Bord Pleanála (ABP—the Irish Planning Board) for approval; the ABP’s response was expected before year end. If it approved the plan, Shell expected to begin work on the segment in spring 2010, likely in the face of strong resistance and direct action on the part of protestors. If ABP required changes to the plan, however, additional delays and expense, at a minimum, would be in the offing.
Opposition groups, in particular the Shell to Sea campaign, whose public face was retired schoolteacher Maura Harrington, remained committed to stopping the project.4 In 2008, when a pipeline laying vessel, the Solitaire, made an attempt to lay the offshore section of pipeline as far as the landfall, Harrington had gone on a ten-day hunger strike, vowing to fast unto death until the vessel left. The Solitaire did have to leave the area for repairs after a twenty-ton section of its pipe delivery “stinger” was snarled on the seabed. According to Shell, the vessel’s pipe laying program for 2008 was subsequently deferred to 2009 due to poor weather conditions.
The opposition countered with their view that it was Harrington’s protest that had forced the Solitaire to leave. For its part, SEPIL management was committed to implementation of the project in a manner consistent with Shell’s commitment to principles of social responsibility. Nolan believed the Corrib Gas Project was not only good for Shell, but good for Ireland, County Mayo, and the local community. The project had already been approved by an array of statutory planning authorities, and his staff was committed to operating to the highest standards of safety and environmental protection. Opponents, however, remained unimpressed.
Shell to Sea was determined that the pipeline would not go through, and that Corrib gas would not be processed on land. They continued to threaten direct action to impede or stop the project, and although their past actions had only served to delay SEPIL’s operations, their threats were credible. At the same time, another group of objectors from the local community, the Pobal Chill Comáin (translated as “the people of Kilcommon”) continued to press for an alternative land-based processing facility at Glinsk, located approximately ten kilometers from the current, and nearly completed, facility.
SEPIL was eager to achieve some form of reconciliation, but its primary opponents, who utterly mistrusted SEPIL, refused to engage in a dialogue. To these opponents, completion of the project as planned was simply unthinkable, and they had little interest in compromise. It was in this climate that the end game of the project would play out. It was fair to wonder how it had all gone so wrong.
COUNTY MAYO With the foes of our land we have fought a long battle Soon they will get their last death-dealing blow When old Nick has received them, their brains he will rattle For the wrongs they have done to the County Mayo. From a traditional ballad5
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In Ireland, “the West” had more than geographical significance. The peripheral counties that hugged the Atlantic seaboard clung to the old traditions, retained a connection to the native language (Irish/Gaeilge), and represented in the minds of natives and tourists alike a purer image of “Irishness.” Certainly Fáilte Ireland (the Irish Tourist Board) happily fostered such impressions.
Prominent among them was County Mayo, located approximately 300 kilometers from the capital city of Dublin. Mayo boasted dazzling seascapes, wild, treeless bogs, pristine rivers and impassive, gray mountains, with a stark beauty that belied its difficult economic circumstances. Long considered a wild place, Mayo’s natives had a reputation for being as stubborn and indomitable as their natural physical environment, and as irascible as their weather.
Isolated geographically, politically, and economically, Mayo had little experience of industrialization, and remained dependent on small-scale agriculture, especially dairy, sheep, and beef farming, as a principal source of employment. Tourism was the primary service industry, although Mayo was rather far afield from the well-trod tourist tracks. During the centuries of English dominance in Ireland, Mayo was a hotbed of resistance and rebellion. For example, the French landed in Mayo in 1798, joined with local rebels, and marched on the English in an ill-fated attempt to establish an Irish Republic.
Although it happened more than 200 years ago, the “Year of the French” was still remembered. Mayo was also the home of the “boycott” which had been applied to a local landlord, a Captain Boycott, in a brutally effective brand of community ostracism during the land wars of the 1880s. Michael Davitt, a Mayo man who led the people against the landlords during that time, exhorted them with his battle cry of “The land Shell E&P Ireland Limited (SEPIL) and the Corrib Gas Controversy Purchased by: Emer Duhy [email protected] on October 12, 2013
for the people!” Some opponents of the Corrib Gas Project liked to compare their fight with Davitt’s campaign against the English landlords . . . and as yet one more example of resistance to the “stranger.”
In the most far flung corner of County Mayo was the Barony of Erris, a sparsely populated region of blanket bog, lashed by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Erris derived its name from the Irish “Iar Ros” meaning “western promontory.” It had some of the most vivid landscapes in all of Ireland, and rich local folklore and traditions. It also housed an Irish-speaking region, one of the few remaining pockets where the language was still used as the vernacular. During the famine in Ireland in the nineteenth century, this part of Mayo suffered more than others, and begat a tradition of emigration that continued to contemporary times. Even within the context of remote County Mayo, Erris had always been a place apart.
Despite a construction boom during the 1990s and first decade of the new century, it remained a “significant area of relative deprivation.”6 Historically untouched by largescale development projects, Mayo was memorably described by one local politician as “the periphery of the periphery, the disadvantaged of the disadvantaged.”7
ROYAL DUTCH SHELL Just because they are a multinational doesn’t mean they are not concerned about the environment. Fr. Kevin Hegarty, Parish Priest and Columnist, County Mayo8
In 2009, Royal Dutch Shell was the largest corporation in the world, outstripping even Exxon Mobil and Walmart, with annual revenues of $458 billion and profits of $26.2 billion.9 With operations in more than 100 countries, over 102,000 employees, and twin headquarters in London and The Hague, the Anglo-Dutch concern epitomized the power, scope, and range of the modern multinational corporation. Integral to its success was its ability to exploit oil and gas reserves located in the often uncertain environments of less developed countries and remote, inhospitable regions.
Such environments, often characterized by complex socio-political dynamics, not only posed technical and operational challenges for Shell but, perhaps as importantly, shone a spotlight on Shell’s ethical and corporate social responsibilities and performance. Although conceding that mistakes had been made in the past, Shell was proud of its ongoing commitments to demonstrating superior levels of corporate social responsibility, and to fostering principles of sustainable development in its operations.
Exhibit 1 documents the corporate values and responsibilities to which Shell promised to adhere. But controversies had dogged Shell’s attempts to be portrayed as a good corporate citizen. In Nigeria, for example, the 1995 execution of author, entrepreneur, and anti-Shell campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa had drawn global criticism from those who accused Shell of not exerting enough pressure on the corrupt Nigerian Government of the time to free (or at least not execute) Saro-Wiwa. Almost simultaneously, there had been negative publicity associated with Shell’s plan to dispose of a defunct oil platform (the “Brent Spar”) by sinking it in the North Sea.
Greenpeace activists even occupied the oil rig for several weeks as part of their campaign against the sinking. Although ultimately Shell acceded to public opinion and disposed of the rig by dismantling it, Greenpeace was also compelled to apologize for exaggerating the risks involved with sinking the platform. Expert opinion, in fact, was quite mixed; many experts came to believe that sinking the Brent Spar would have been an environmentally preferable method of disposal. 4
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These incidents engendered a fundamental reconsideration of Shell’s principles and practice of social responsibility. Shell reaffirmed its commitment to socially responsible business practices and promised to “mitigate any negative impacts” from its activities and even to “take a constructive interest in societal matters, directly or indirectly related to our business.”10
Business writers took note of this and wrote of the “transformation” of Shell in the wake of these negative incidents.11 In the Fortune magazine annual survey of the world’s most admired companies for 2009, Shell ranked third (after ExxonMobil and Chevron) of fifteen global oil companies on an overall measure of reputation, and first in the industry for social responsibility.
A HISTORY OF THE CORRIB GAS CONTROVERSY Discovery Ireland is a small country with few natural resources. Before the discovery of natural gas, its only indigenous sources of energy were some small coal mines and its many peat bogs. The bogs provided the “turf” (a form of soggy compressed organic matter in a precoal condition) that served as Ireland’s traditional source of fuel. The first commercial discovery of energy in Ireland was the Kinsale Gas Field off the coast of County Cork in 1971.
The Kinsale Field was situated in approximately 300 feet of water, 3,000 feet below the seabed. Once the decision was made to bring the gas ashore, two permanent gas platforms were constructed off the south coast of Ireland to extract and process the gas and pump it through a sub-sea pipeline to landfall in County Cork where it was put into Ireland’s national gas grid. After more than thirty years in production, the Kinsale field was in serious decline, supplying less than 5 percent of Ireland’s energy needs in 2009. Full depletion was expected soon.
The oil crises of 1973 and 1979 led to large increases in energy prices, spurring interest in the exploration of Ireland’s offshore waters. Significant discoveries of oil and natural gas in the North Sea further stimulated exploration. Optimism abounded; many were convinced that indigenous sources of energy were just waiting to be found.12 Irish licensing terms at the time reflected this, with statutes requiring a government stake of 50 percent in any energy enterprise, a flat tax rate of 50 percent on profits, and a 6 percent royalty on all oil and gas extracted. These were similar to terms that had been applied by Norway to its North Sea oil fields.13
Ireland’s hopes, however, were dashed. Just over 100 wells were drilled in Ireland’s offshore basins from 1975 through 1990, yet none proved viable. Informed opinion by the early 1990s held that Irish fields, if discovered, were marginal at best, and Irish terms for oil extraction were out of proportion to the risk and return available. By 1992, Irish law was changed to make exploration activities more attractive. Mandatory state participation in energy extraction enterprises and royalties on production were eliminated. The tax rate was reduced to 25 percent, and further concessions applied to the determination of past expenses that could offset taxable profits.
Subsequently, critics of the Corrib Gas Project called such terms “the great gas giveaway,” charging that the terms were far more generous than those offered by other countries. But even with such changes, there was hardly a stampede to explore Ireland’s offshore waters, with only seventeen wells drilled from 1991 through 1998. The Irish Offshore Operators Association argued that exploration companies had in fact invested more than €2 billion in unsuccessful drilling off the coast of Ireland over a thirty year period.14 Shell E&P Ireland Limited (SEPIL) and the Corrib Gas Controversy Purchased by: Emer Duhy [email protected] on October 12, 2013
Finally, in 1998, the operating partner for Corrib Gas Partners, Enterprise Energy Ireland (EEI), a consortium of EEI (45 percent), Statoil Exploration (Ireland) Ltd. (36.5 percent), and Marathon International Petroleum Hibernia Ltd. (18.5 percent), confirmed that commercially viable quantities of natural gas had been discovered in the Atlantic Ocean, about eighty-three kilometers off the coast of County Mayo. The Corrib Gas Field was located in 1,150 feet of water, some 11,500 feet below the seabed. Economic consultants engaged by Shell later estimated that the field would yield approximately 30 billion cubic meters (1 trillion feet) of a relatively pure or “sweet” gas (i.e., few impurities and a high percentage of methane), and add approximately €3 billion to GDP in Ireland over a fifteen- to twenty-year operating life.
15 The field was expected to supply 60 percent of Ireland’s natural gas requirements at its peak output. Later government estimates valued the Corrib field at €9.5 billion, with government tax revenues of €1.7 billion over the life of the project (based on €3 billion in operating costs and a 25 percent tax rate).16 Exhibit 2 provides a summarized chronology of the Corrib Project.
Smooth Sailing: Early Contacts and Regulatory Approvals Initial public reaction to the discovery bordered on the euphoric. County Mayo politicians swung into action, demanding that onshore activities connected with the gas be located in Mayo. The general idea was that “the gas” represented a huge economic bonanza for those communities that would host activities connected with it. At the extreme, some believed that economic hard times in the region would be over.
But there were few details made public about the project itself. Although people knew that the gas was coming, they didn’t know exactly how, where, what, or when. The first tangible evidence of the arrival of the gas project came in 1999 when personnel from Bord Gáis, the state-owned natural gas utility, arrived at a site near Bellanaboy on the Erris peninsula to do exploratory work. Locals learned from these surveyors that the site, about eight kilometers inland from the Atlantic Ocean, was being considered by EEI as a location for an on-shore gas processing facility, and that Bord Gáis planned to construct another gas pipeline connecting that facility to the national gas grid. This survey work was done as part of the planning, but apparently before formal communications or consultation with the local community.
The following year, the first surveyors from EEI appeared around Belmullet, a small market town about nineteen kilometers from the proposed processing site at Bellanaboy, in preparation for a submission for planning permission. Like all projects of this magnitude, there was an array of regulatory approvals required (see Exhibit 3 for a brief summary of major approvals). In the early days of the project, such approvals appeared to come easily. Although some local residents, driven primarily by safety concerns, were beginning to organize in opposition to the project, the Mayo County Council (the local approving authority) granted planning permission for the onshore terminal in 2001, with sixty-six conditions. Opponents of the project immediately appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanála.
Simultaneously, a range of other applications and approvals were in process. In 2001, a petroleum lease was granted by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (the Ministry). In 2002, a “Plan of Development for the Corrib Gas Field” was submitted by EEI and approved by the Ministry. This represented an overarching consent to construct the entire project from the Corrib field, including the gas
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pipeline (eitty-three kilometers offshore and eight kilometers onshore). The Minister also granted a foreshore (offshore) license for the pipeline, umbilical, and outfall pipe. Except for the appeal to An Bord Pleanála, the approval process moved along smoothly. In May 2002, SEPIL acquired EEI and took over as the operating partner of the Corrib Gas Partners. At the same time, Andy Pyle, a UK national and Shell veteran, was made managing director of SEPIL. The word on the street was that the project was a definite “go,” that the people of the area wanted it, and that there seemed to be no cause for concern. The gas was envisioned to start flowing by the end of 2005.
The Wrong Project in the Wrong Place? In my opinion, the current proposed site is unequivocally an incorrect choice. Senior Inspector Kevin Moore, An Bord Pleanála, April 200317
In June 2002, An Bord Pleanála raised concerns about health and safety. An unprecedented second round of oral hearings was heard in November. The oral hearings lasted a total of twenty-two days, the second longest in the board’s history. In early 2003, An Bord Pleanála Senior Inspector Kevin Moore issued a report highly critical of plans for the gas terminal at Bellanaboy. In the document’s summary, Moore wrote:
It is my submission that the proposed development of a large gas processing terminal at this rural, scenic, and unserviced area on a bogland hill some eight kilometres inland from the Mayo coastland landfall location, with all its site development works difficulties, public safety concerns, adverse visual, ecological, and traffic impacts, and a range of other significant environmental impacts, defies any rational understanding of the term “sustainability.”18
Moore was also critical of the so-called “project splitting” that he felt had characterized the project. This was the notion that the “different responsibilities for the range of activities associated with the development of the Corrib Gas Field—for seabed, landfall, overland pipelines, and terminal,” rested on various agencies, none of which bore full responsibility for the appropriateness and safety of the entire project.19 In his view, the full impact of the entire project (undersea pipeline, inland pipeline, and gas processing facility) had yet to be properly reviewed.
In its essentials, his report found among other things that: • The project was contrary to the goal of balanced regional development in that it would offer little benefit to County Mayo. • The proposed site for the gas processing facility was wholly inappropriate. • The project would result in “a significant deterioration of the landscape” and the “degradation of the fragile ecology of the area.”20
• There was a lack of real assurance that the proposed processing plant would not cause an unacceptable risk to people due to its close proximity to residential properties. • There were problems with the construction plan, which called for the removal of blanket bog from the construction site, and its storage in peat repositories on the site. This was considered to present a risk of likely instability and subsequent safety risk to the local community, and also the chance of pollution. But Moore’s report was not a “decision.” The planning appeals process in Ireland worked as follows: an inspector prepared a report, which was reviewed by a senior board member, who then wrote a shorter recommendation to the board and then a quorum
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of the board decided on the application and, if approved, the appropriate conditions. The board had no obligation to accept an inspector’s recommendation. In the planning application for the onshore terminal, An Bord Pleanála overturned Mayo County Council’s original decision to grant planning permission for the gas terminal on the single ground of peat stability (not on the basis of the other elements of the inspector’s report).
The planning refusal was a real blow, and rumors swirled that SEPIL was on the verge of abandoning the project. Yet by the time the year was out SEPIL developed a new planning application and submitted it to Mayo County Council. It included Figure 2
Pipeline routes south of Sruwaddacon Bay were ruled out since they would have passed through areas of greater habitation and thus would have required nearer proximity of the pipeline to individual residences. These areas also had development potential that might have been negatively affected by any pipeline.
revised plans for the removal of 600,000 cubic meters of peat from the terminal site to a reclaimed bog area eleven kilometers away, owned by the Irish Peat Board. Project opponents complained that around this time there was a meeting between a delegation from SEPIL and the Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern.
There was also a meeting between a delegation from the Irish Offshore Operators Association (IOOA), including senior Shell executives, and the chairman of An Bord Pleanála. Opponents subsequently used these meetings to advance a conspiracy theory, suggesting that a “deal” had been struck. However, oil industry observers noted that it was not unusual for companies investing significant sums in a country, and particularly in strategically important resource areas, to meet with senior government officials and politicians. For its part, An Bord Pleanála categorically rejected any suggestion of impropriety or undue influence relating to its review of the Corrib project.
The meeting between IOOA and the board, it maintained, was about clarity of process. Corrib Gas Partners did not have an application before the Board at the time of the meeting; if they had, the meeting could not have taken place. An Bord Pleanála was generally considered to be scrupulous in the way it managed the planning appeals process. In April 2004, Mayo County Council again granted planning permission for the processing plant, this time subject to seventy-five conditions.
Again, the decision was appealed to An Bord Pleanála. But this time, given that its specific concern about peat stability had been addressed, the planning board supported the local council and granted approval to begin work on the gas terminal at Bellanaboy (with forty-two conditions attached). Among the conditions was SEPIL’s obligation to return the construction site to its original “greenfield” condition at the end of the useful life of the project. The cost of decommissioning the facility and pipeline was estimated at €20 million. By the beginning of 2005, despite protests at the construction location, site work had begun in earnest. But this was not the only element of the project; pre-construction work on the pipeline that would connect the gas fields with the inland processing facility had also commenced.
The Pipeline Route and the “Rossport Five”
As Shell personnel began surveying the eight kilometers onshore route of the pipeline, local opponents initiated direct action: they parked their cars along the side of the narrow local roads so that construction lorries could not pass, picketed the construction site, and refused Shell personnel entry onto their lands. In response, Shell began proceedings in the High Court to prevent such obstruction, and the High Court granted an injunction against those preventing Shell access to private lands to install the pipeline.
This was done via the enforcement of legislation allowing for compulsory temporary rights of ways for strategic infrastructure projects deemed to be in the national interest. Enforcement of these “Compulsory Acquisition Orders” (CAOs) had the effect of rendering any obstruction or resistance illegal.
For protestors, safety concerns remained paramount, not only concerning the location of the processing plant, but also the pipeline. The fact that it traversed what was largely a sparsely populated area did little to assuage the fears of those residents who did live in close proximity to the planned pipeline.
The nearest normally occupied house along the route was seventy meters from the pipeline (about 230 feet). Not only did the pipeline’s proximity signal to them danger (and a probable inability to escape in case of a catastrophic explosion, particularly given the limited local infrastructure), but the pipeline was rated for a pressure that, in their view, represented a Shell E&P Ireland Limited (SEPIL) and the Corrib Gas Controversy Purchased by: Emer Duhy [email protected] on October 12, 2013
significant safety concern. Natural gas pipelines required a certain amount of pressure for gas to flow; the planned pipeline was designed for 345 bar—although the actual operating pressure was planned to be no higher than 110 bar.21 Nevertheless, some local residents feared that the pressure in the pipeline would be significantly higher than similar pipelines.
In June 2005, five local men from Rossport, a small hamlet along the line of the proposed pipeline, were jailed for contempt of court for refusing to obey the High Court order not to interfere with the construction of the pipeline and for refusing SEPIL entry onto their land (the approved pipeline route). The five, who included two retired schoolteachers and three small farmers, vowed to stay in prison until they received justice. Their incarceration precipitated a groundswell of negative reaction to Shell, and to the government.
The Irish public looked upon the men as martyrs who stood up to a big multinational and whose only crime was defense of their own land and protection of their families. Certainly in Ireland, given its history of rebellion and resistance, the suggestion of being “martyrs for the cause” had particular and powerful resonance. Picketing commenced at various Shell locations, including the construction site in Mayo and SEPIL’s headquarters in Dublin, rallies for the men, now known popularly as the “Rossport Five” were held all over Ireland, and the Corrib Gas Controversy became a cause célèbre. Public sentiment swung quickly and overwhelmingly in support of the Rossport Five.
Reeling from withering criticism, and with little assistance (moral or tangible) from the Irish government, SEPIL was in a most uncomfortable position. Some suggested that SEPIL had initiated proceedings against the men expecting that, when faced with jail, the five would “purge” their contempt. They did not. Rather, it was Shell who blinked first. SEPIL dropped its temporary injunction and the High Court released the Rossport Five after ninety-four days of captivity. The five gave no assurance that they would not undertake the same behavior that had landed them in jail in the first place.
They arrived home as heroes. It was a high point for the opponents of the Corrib Project. While the Rossport Five were in jail, SEPIL deferred the laying of the offshore pipeline until 2006, and suspended work on the Bellanaboy processing facility. The construction workers were laid off. Shell indicated that its decision to temporarily suspend work was to allow for a period of public discussion and dialogue, and to address public concerns. Many protestors and observers, however, thought that this sequence of events signaled that the Corrib Project, at least as originally conceived, was dead.
Mediators, Consultants, and Subsequent Events
But even as work on the ground slowed or stopped, an array of studies commenced. The Irish government, Shell, and opponents of the pipeline all engaged consultants to address issues surrounding the pipeline. The first report was prepared by the “Centre for Public Inquiry (CPI),” a non-governmental body established to “investigate matters of public importance in Irish political, public and corporate life.”
22 In November 2005, it published The Great Corrib Gas Controversy, a report highly critical of the Corrib Project. It included an independent report written by Richard Kuprewicz, an American pipeline safety expert with approximately thirty years experience in providing risk assessment and analysis services to clients, most of whom were public citizens, “fence line” communities, or governmental agencies.
The key findings of Kuprewicz were that:
• The route of the pipeline, as proposed, was unacceptable due to its close proximity to people and dwellings. • There were many unknowns, including the high pressure of the pipeline and the unknown composition of the gas that created real questions about the credibility of the risk assessments already done on the pipeline.
• The difficulties of locating a gas processing plant offshore were overstated.23 Essentially, the CPI report disputed and discounted much of the work that had been done to date, and advised a complete reevaluation of the project from the beginning, with an eye to its integration into a reshaped Irish energy strategy.
24 The Irish government, too, had been active. In response to safety concerns expressed by some members of the local community (and while the Rossport Five were jailed), they appointed international consultants, Advantica, to conduct an independent safety review of the onshore pipeline. Advantica was a wholly-owned but independent consultancy subsidiary of National Grid Transco, UK, with more than 600 professional staff, and was “a world leader in the development and application of advanced hazard and risk assessment technologies for gas pipelines and above-ground pressure systems.”
25 The firm had vast experience in such studies, and specifically with high-pressure pipelines that ran through populated areas. Advantica’s report, issued in January 2006, recommended several changes, of which the most significant was their finding that “limiting the pressure in the onshore section to pressures no greater than 144 bar is believed to be both practical and an effective measure to reduce risk.”26 But otherwise, Advantica found the pipeline as designed had: a substantial safety margin . . . and the pipeline design and proposed route should be accepted as meeting or exceeding international standards in terms of the acceptability of risk and international best practice for high pressure pipelines.27
Naturally, opponents of the project relied upon the Kuprewicz/CPI report in their continued battle against the project. But proponents of the project considered the CPI report to be politically motivated, and pointed instead to the engineering competence and resources, and (in their view) scientific objectivity of Advantica.
Opponents countered, noting that Advantica regularly did work for Shell and the other major energy companies, implying that these relationships compromised Advantica’s independence. In November 2005, in an attempt to bring the two sides together and restart the project, the government engaged veteran mediator Peter Cassells. He was charged “to assist the parties to resolve the differences between them or, in the absence of agreement, to identity the ingredients of a way forward.”28 But after seven months of wide consultation, Cassells concluded that the parties were unable to resolve their differences.
29 It should be noted that Cassells had been unable to engage the parties in direct, formal mediation; although SEPIL was amenable, the Rossport Five would not meet face-toface with SEPIL representatives. In lieu of any agreement on how to move forward, Cassells decided to provide his own recommendations.
The most salient were:30 • Shell should limit the pressure in the pipeline to 144 bar or below (as recommended by Advantica) and modify the pipeline route to address community concerns regarding proximity to housing. • Shell should provide benefits to the local community by contributing to an Investment Fund for the long-term economic, social, and environmental development of the area.
Shell E&P Ireland Limited (SEPIL) and the Corrib Gas Controversy Purchased by: Emer Duhy [email protected] on October 12, 2013
• Shell should arrange that more local people be employed on the project, and that local businesses be used as suppliers whenever possible.
• A program that provided for comprehensive engagement and ongoing consultation between SEPIL and local people should be developed. Following the release of the Cassells report, SEPIL managing director Andy Pyle acknowledged that Shell had not listened enough to the local community. In a formal statement he said “. . . mistakes have been made. We regret the part that we played in the jailing of the five men last summer. For the hurt that this caused the local community I am sorry. The Corrib gas partners are fully committed to the project, however, we can only succeed in partnership with the local community.”31 Construction of the processing facility recommenced in late 2006.
Over the next two and a half years, as construction continued, protestors sporadically clashed with Irish Gardaí (police) and Shell’s private security contractors. Attempts were made to disrupt the laying of the pipeline in Broadhaven Bay and onto the landfall at Glengad Beach. As part of this effort, in autumn 2008, Maura Harrington garnered international headlines by going on her hunger strike.
Meanwhile, in accordance with the findings of the Advantica and Cassells Reports, Shell agreed to modify the pipeline route in the vicinity of Rossport, limit the pressure in the onshore pipeline, and finance a long-term community development fund. RPS consultants were appointed by Shell in January 2007 to identify a modified pipeline route. Their route selection process lasted sixteen months and involved substantial public and community consultation.
They identified a modified route which doubled the distance of the pipeline from occupied housing, and effectively halved the pressure from 345 bar to 144 bar. Applications for this modified route were submitted to the planning board and two other government departments in April 2008, returned for revisions, and resubmitted in February 2009.
During the summer of 2009 protests increased in intensity as opponents attempted to prevent the laying of the pipe in Broadhaven Bay, and the construction of a temporary construction compound at the pipe’s landfall at Glengad Beach. On April 22, just hours after Shell contractors had arrived at the landfall to begin work, a number of serious incidents occurred. According to SEPIL, late night protestors led an incursion into the compound, wrecking fencing and damaging equipment; these activities were said to have occurred with some level of precision, and were apparently well organized.
On the same night and at the same location, Willie Corduff, one of the Rossport Five and the recipient of a Goldman Environmental Prize in 2007 for his activities in opposition to the Corrib Project, was allegedly beaten up (he claimed, by men in balaclavas) in the middle of the night while he was engaged in a protest (planting himself in the undercarriage of a lorry and preventing it from accessing the landfall site). Shell denied any connection with such acts of violence. Corduff, at that time, did not formally report the alleged attack to the Gardaí, and hence no criminal investigations ensued.32 Such incidents drew more protestors to subsequent protests, and in reaction a heavier police and security presence.
The situation grew increasingly muddled. In May, in another bizarre incident, a local fisherman and vocal opponent of the project, Pat O’Donnell, known locally by his nickname of “the Chief,” claimed that his fishing boat was boarded by unidentified men wearing balaclavas. He alleged that they held him captive, disabled the boat, and sunk it . . . allowing him just enough time to scramble into a life raft. O’Donnell, who later confirmed to a national newspaper that the fishing gear on his vessel had been removed 12
from the vessel before the sinking, suggested it was Shell mercenaries trying to get him out of the way; Shell adamantly denied those claims.
Despite the ongoing protest, by mid-2009 the construction of the gas processing facility was nearing completion, with start-up and testing planned for the first half of 2010. During summer 2009, dredgers subcontracted by Shell successfully trenched the seabed in Broadhaven Bay for the laying of the pipeline, despite Shell to Sea protestors in kayaks who attempted to board the vessels and disrupt operations.
By July, the world’s largest pipeline laying vessel, the Solitaire, succeeded in completing the pipeline from the gas field to the landfall. This was done, however, only with the assistance of a large contingent of police, several Irish Navy vessels, and the use of contract security personnel. A number of activists were jailed during this time, including Maura Harrington, who was jailed four times in 2009 for offenses that included the assault of a Garda and dangerous driving.
But perhaps the most difficult portion of the project was still to come, the laying of the eight kilometers of onshore pipeline through private lands, from Glengad Beach to the processing facility at Bellanaboy. Planning permission for this stretch was still pending; the planning board planned to report its decision by the end of October 2009. If approved, the laying of the final pipeline segment would presumably commence in Spring of 2010; if not, then further delays would be encountered. Opponents of the project, however, promised that they would prevent the pipeline from ever going through. Figure 2 provides an overview map of the Corrib Project and the proposed pipeline route.
KEY ACTORS AND STAKEHOLDERS Shell E&P Ireland—Terry Nolan, Managing Director Nolan returned to Ireland in June 2006, arriving in the midst of the fallout from the Rossport Five controversy. But despite the setbacks that had occurred, he remained optimistic about the project and committed to its implementation. My vision is for Corrib to be developed as a modern and efficient gas project, operating to the very highest health and safety standards, supplying 60 percent of Ireland’s gas needs and recognised as being of strategic importance to this country. My ambition is to have an operation managed and run mainly by Irish people, training professional staff in County Mayo, supported by Shell’s international organisation and global technical expertise. Moreover, I have a vision of Shell being an accepted and welcome part of the local community. In countries such as Norway and the Netherlands, where I worked for eight years, the oil and gas industry is so well developed that local communities welcome oil and gas projects as they know the enormous benefits that these bring.33
But the Rossport Five debacle had turned the Corrib controversy into a highly emotive national issue. Protestors against the project, not without reason, felt that even if they had not yet won, the tide had clearly turned in their favor. Even Shell’s supporters acknowledged that Shell had received a serious black eye from the incident. Almost all agreed that Shell had erred by initiating a legal process which led to the Rossport Five being jailed.
The challenge for Nolan (first as deputy and later as managing director) was to attempt to rebuild the damaged communication lines with some in the local community. To that effect, he embarked on a campaign of community engagement.
The crux of the Corrib problem is mistrust and lack of real dialogue. Our communication with the community in Erris failed. For this we are responsible and have stated so publicly. Over the past year Shell has changed enormously. We have listened to concerns and have taken them on board. We are determined to proceed with legitimacy as well as legality on our side. We have learned from the past but we cannot live in it.
34 The Corrib gas project is something that benefits us all—it will bring security of energy supply to the country, jobs to the local area and opportunities for our talented young people to develop their skills working on one of Ireland’s most exciting engineering projects. It will also show the world that such exciting projects can happen in Ireland and can benefit our children and our society. No problem has ever been resolved without dialogue. I am available at any time and willing to engage with anyone—in particular I appeal to those who have genuine concerns to talk to us.35
He later commented, in May 2008, that: When I wrote that article, there was only a handful of people employed by Shell in Mayo and there was undoubtedly a lack of trust between ourselves and the local community. No construction work had taken place for over a year. We had acknowledged publicly that we had not handled local concerns around safety in the way we should have, and we were working hard to change this and to listen to, and address, local issues.
We had agreed to move the onshore pipeline further from local housing to address concerns and had promised a transparent and inclusive public engagement process to identify a new route. We had promised to bring more benefits to the local community but had not yet delivered. Actions speak louder than words. Today, nearly 700 people are employed in northwest Mayo constructing the Corrib gas processing terminal, which is the largest construction site in Ireland. In the coming weeks this number will rise to over 800. Over 60 percent of those employed are from Mayo.36
Critics called such largesse “bribery,” while Shell responded that they were acting in accordance with their global social investment policies as well as the recommendations of the mediator. Even while protests continued, Shell’s newly created Corrib Natural Gas Erris Development Fund, with a budget of up to €5 million for 2009–2012, began to make awards to community organizations, and employment at the construction site peaked at over 1,000.37 Once production commenced, Shell expected to employ sixtyfive people at the processing plant, and to generate a further sixty-five to seventy indirect jobs through local contractors and other suppliers.
Shell to Sea—Maura Harrington Shell to Sea was formed in 2005 when it organized protests in support of the Rossport Five. It became the most visible, outspoken, and media savvy of the opposition groups. Its mission statement is presented in Exhibit 4.
Their stated goal was clear: to prevent the construction of any onshore gas pipeline and inland processing facility in County Mayo, and to instead promote the refining of the natural gas offshore. Their objections centered on (1) their belief that the proposed onshore pipeline, even with changes, represented a safety hazard to local residents due to its proximity to houses, its pressure (that they claimed was still higher than normal “refined” natural gas), and the route of the pipeline over boggy and unstable terrain; (2) their belief that the project would engender negative effects on the natural environment, including the release of toxic wastes into Carrowmore Lake (the local source for drinking water) and Broadhaven Bay (a designated Special Area of Conservation by the EU);
and (3) their claim that the terms under which Shell received the license to exploit the Corrib natural gas were unduly generous and represented nothing less than a “great gas giveaway,” and that few if any benefits would accrue to the local community.38 For Shell to Sea, anything short of achieving their goals was unacceptable, compromise was unthinkable, and negotiations were unlikely to achieve any results. They were committed to battle Shell, the government, and supporters of the project at every turn.
As chief spokesperson for Shell to Sea, Maura Harrington became the face and the voice of the opposition and in the process, a national celebrity. The chain-smoking Harrington, who lived in Mayo although not in the community directly impacted by the project, was often depicted as an attention-hungry villain by her adversaries and as a heroic martyr by her supporters. Although not a physically intimidating figure, standing just over five feet tall, she more than compensated for this with a fierce nature and dogged perseverance.
Her fiery rhetoric and fervent personality gained her notoriety in the press, for she was hardly delicate in her comments. Harrington did not hesitate to call Shell executives “sh-ts in suits,” and certain supporters of the project as “pimps for Shell.”39 She certainly aroused strong emotions; some of her opponents called her the “antiMadonna” and alleged that she had ties to the IRA, although this was never substantiated. But she did have a history of activism, involved in supporting many left wing causes over the years. Fundamentally, Harrington claimed to be motivated by her dedication to place, rather than politics:
This is about a sense of place and its people. We may not qualify as indigenous people, but we have our land and culture, to which we belong. . . . They say we are opposed to progress, and laugh at us. But to me, progress is the ability to sustain yourself, and those who come after you. It’s nature and nurture: what we here call muinhin, which means of the place, and cointeann, which means to get a little awkward when that place and its people are about to be torn apart.40
Of the necessity for continued resistance to the project, and by nearly any means, Harrington said, “It is worth fighting for and, if necessary, it is worth dying for.”41 To Harrington, force was the only language that Shell understood, and thus unrelenting resistance without negotiation or compromise was opponents’ only viable strategy. In March 2009, Harrington was imprisoned for twenty-eight days after being found guilty of slapping a Garda (police officer) while protesting pipeline preparation work. She was also held in contempt of court for quarreling with the judge after he recommended that she undergo psychiatric evaluation. She was jailed again in September. About Shell to Sea’s hardball tactics, Harrington said:
Shell has always had other options . . . which may have cost a little bit more, but they chose not to use them. Therefore, we are damned if we are going to . . . not say anything, not do anything. You have this horrible, patronizing patter: “Oh, of course the protestors are entitled to protest . . . but as long as they stay out of everybody’s way and are entirely ineffective . . . then they can protest away to their hearts’ content.” But when our protests become effective, then we join a different club, we are nasty thugs and low lives, but we know we are not, and so do Shell.42
Shell to Sea was more than a thorn in the side of Shell; it was a significant opponent. It updated its website daily, organized protests, disrupted Shell operations, wrote letters, gave interviews, and made submissions to and attended (and sometimes walked out of ) planning board meetings. Still, it had failed to stop Shell “at the beachhead,” and the pipeline had been landed at Glengad Beach. This made the final link, the eight kilometers onshore segment of the pipeline, of the ultimate importance. In fall 2009, Shell to Shell E&P Ireland Limited (SEPIL) and the Corrib Gas Controversy Purchased by: Emer Duhy [email protected] on October 12, 2013
Sea was surely planning this next, and perhaps final, phase of its resistance. Willie Corduff, one of the Rossport Five and a member of Shell to Sea, summed it up: There’s no way back for Shell in this area. Even if it was only myself I will never give in to them. Never. Regardless of what the consequences are going to be I’m not going to give in to Shell. Because you couldn’t after seeing what they have done all over the world. It would be the end of our life if they did get in.43
The Rossport Solidarity Camp—Niall Harnett Representing, more or less, the direct action wing of Shell to Sea, the camp was a collection of tents, fire pits, and temporary structures situated on a bluff overlooking Glengad. It represented a loose and generally young group of activists of various stripes, most of whom were not from County Mayo.
44 Led by Niall Harnett, a veteran activist from Dublin (he had also protested the landing of U.S. military aircraft at Shannon airport), the camp had ebbed and flowed with the seasons since 2005. It served as a base of operations for direct actions intended to disrupt or stop work on the Corrib Pipeline. While in the beginning their tactics had been unpracticed, they evolved over time. Most recently, for example, opponents had devised a method of blocking roads by placing a tri-pod like structure in the center of a roadway with a protestor sitting at its pinnacle 20 feet above the ground.
This method was intended to stop traffic for hours until authorities could build scaffolding to the height of the lone protestor and take him/her down safely.45 During summer 2009, activists from the camp had also engaged in a series of kayak missions in which they paddled out to dredging and pipeline laying vessels, attempted to evade security vessels (including the Irish Navy), and on one occasion successfully boarded a dredger and climbed up on a lifting arm to disrupt operations. Yet, at the end of the day, such tactics had delayed but not stopped the project.
Pobal Chill Comáin—Vincent McGrath Pobal Chill Comáin (translated as “the people of the parish of Kilcommon”) was organized by Vincent McGrath, one of the Rossport Five, in 2007. McGrath, formerly associated with Shell to Sea, saw a need for an opposition group separate from Shell to Sea and the more radical protestors, and composed of local people from Kilcommon Parish, the area directly affected by the proposed pipeline and gas processing facility.
Their mode of engagement involved less direct action, and more reliance on negotiation and lobbying, through every legal means possible. Given this, creation of this group represented something of a split within the opposition movement. For its part, Pobal Chill Comáin claimed to represent a majority of inhabitants of the parish, but this assertion was strongly contested by local supporters of the project.
In 2008, Pobal Chill Comáin proposed relocating the processing facility to an uninhabited site on the coast at Glinsk, about ten kilometers by road from the existing site at Bellanaboy. Such relocation obviated the need for an onshore pipeline, since the gas would be processed literally at the shore.
The residents’ statement argued that all relocation costs could be written off under the tax code, thus engendering no additional costs to Shell. (Of course, the costs would need to be borne by someone, presumably the Irish government who would realize lower tax revenues.) Additionally, Shell noted that relocating the gas processing terminal to Glinsk would also have serious ramifications for Bord Gáis—which had already built and installed a 148-kilometer transmission pipeline to the Bellanaboy terminal at a cost of €200 million. McGrath, a retired teacher and 16
Case Research Journal • Volume 31 • Issue 4 • Fall 2011 Purchased by: Emer Duhy [email protected] on October 12, 2013 noted traditional musician, stated that “the vast majority of the receiving community at the heart of the campaign for health and safety” would accept the relocation of the refinery “in the interests of healing the deep divisions in their community.”46 Although McGrath regarded this as a significant compromise on the part of his group, Shell rejected the site as unsuitable. Glinsk . . . was never considered as a potentially suitable landfall location or terminal site for various reasons.
The coastline in the Glinsk area is characterised by 100 meter to 200 meter rock cliffs. The coast in this area is north facing and is therefore very exposed to adverse weather conditions. The proposed site at Glinsk is 2.5 kilometers from the nearest third class paved road and from other infrastructure requirements such as power, making it significantly more difficult to develop as a landfall/reception terminal. Also because of the very broad range of relationships we have with members of the local community, we do not agree with the assertion that those calling for the terminal to be relocated to Glinsk speak for or have the support of the majority of people in the local area.47
Clearly, the parties remained as far apart as ever. McGrath summarized his feelings: We are fighting for many things here: our health, environment, and happiness. But we are also fighting for the right to live our lives as we have for generations before Shell came along. Shell does not have the consent of this community. And the lesson of history is that where there is occupation, there will be resistance.48
Pro-Gas Mayo This Mayo-based group supported the Corrib Gas Project. Its primary spokesperson and chairman, Pádraig Cosgrove, said, “Many people . . . are under the misconception that everyone in north Mayo is against the Corrib gas project and that, within the local community, it has no support. Nothing could be further from the truth.”49 This group welcomed a project that they believed would offer economic development to a region sorely in need of it, as well as the promise of future investment in the area.
Cosgrove claimed that a majority of the community wanted the project because of the economic impact. “This is about bread and butter—education for our children and jobs for the future.”50 Pro-Gas Mayo’s activities usually took the form of participation in community forums, submissions to review boards, newspaper editorials and letters to the editor, and media interviews.
Government Broadly speaking, all branches and levels of government had supported the Corrib Gas Project from its inception, including the national government of September 2009, which included the Green Party as a coalition partner. The project had cleared every regulatory hurdle (except for the final planning board approval for the revised onshore pipeline, which was pending). Supporters of the project emphasized that licensing requirements in Ireland were more stringent than most countries in which Shell operated.
They argued that, in view of the long running controversy, the Corrib project had been scrutinized at a level of intensity that was unequalled in any other development in Ireland. However, from the perspective of opponents to the project, the government had let them down, failed to properly assess the safety, environmental, and economic impacts of the project, and generally been derelict in fulfilling its duties. Although a number of individual politicians remained opposed to the project, the only political
Shell E&P Ireland Limited (SEPIL) and the Corrib Gas Controversy Purchased by: Emer Duhy [email protected] on October 12, 2013 party opposing the Corrib project was the Sinn Féin Party, who held just four seats in the Irish Dáil (Parliament).
The Community and Public Opinion It was difficult to discern with confidence community opinion regarding the Corrib Project. Both sides claimed community support, although even the definition and parameters of “community” were contested. Was it all of Ireland, or just Mayo, or only the Erris peninsula? Or was the relevant community only those in the immediate vicinity of the project? An Irish Times/TNR MBI survey conducted in May 2006 revealed that national approval of the pipeline plan was estimated at 20 percent,51 in contradiction to Shell’s statement that “the majority of the local community wants this proje