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Gulf Times: Irish villagers risking prison to protest Shell gas pipeline: “The Corrib gas reservoir, discovered in 1996, contains an estimated 1tn cu ft of gas and was the first significant offshore find in Ireland in 25 years.” Published: Sunday, 30 October, 2005


By Fergal O’Brien and Dara Doyle


DUBLIN: Willie Corduff, a farmer from Rossport in western Ireland, spent 94 days in prison for obstructing Royal Dutch/Shell Plc’s plans to build a pipeline near his village.


“I don’t want to go back to jail, but I will if I have to,’’ said Corduff, 51, as he drove from Bellanaboy to Rossport, a 30-house village perched on the edge of Broadhaven Bay in Mayo. Corduff says he’ll do anything “within the law’’ to prevent the project.


Corduff and four other men, known in Ireland as the Rossport Five, argue that the Shell pipeline less than 100m (109 yards) from their homes puts their families’ health at risk. Shell, Europe’s second-biggest oil company, says the pipeline is needed to bring gas from its $1.1bn Corrib gas field in the Atlantic Ocean to a refinery at Bellanaboy, near Rossport.


The Rossport Five were jailed on June 29 for defying a court order to not interfere with the pipeline. Protesters, including the five men and their wives, blocked Shell workers’ access to the site under the eye of the local police. While free again, the men may still be punished for contempt of court, a ruling that would mean a further spell in jail, fines, or a reprimand.


The project, which has government approval because it would supply 60% of Ireland’s gas needs over the next two decades, is pitting residents against supporters such as the Pro-Erris Gas Group, which highlights new jobs that would come to the area. Rossport is on the tip of the Erris peninsula, close to the Glengad and Dooncarton mountains, and one of the least inhabited areas of Europe.


Shell’s pipeline will help reduce Ireland’s reliance on oil. Around 54% of Ireland’s energy comes from oil, compared with a global average of 37%, according to Cork-based Bord Gais, Ireland’s state-owned gas supplier. Some 1,000 people may be employed during the project’s construction, according to Shell, which is based in London and The Hague.


“A lot of money would come into the community and there would be good quality jobs available,’’ said Chris Tallot, a retiree from nearby Belmullet who worked in peat supply at Bord na Mona for 46 years. He’s part of the group backing the project.


An Irish government review of the project is due to be completed in December, and Shell says it’s confident the project will go ahead. The government has promised a mediator to try to resolve the impasse over the project.


For Shell and its partner in the project, Stavanger-based Statoil ASA, Norway’s largest oil company, the conflict in Ireland is just one of many as oil companies seek the next generation of energy supplies as those found decades ago start to run out.


The Rossport Five have the backing of Owens Wiwa, the brother of Ken Saro Wiwa, who campaigned against oil companies including Shell. He was hanged by the Nigerian government a decade ago.


Seven years ago, adverse publicity forced Shell to drop a plan to sink the obsolete Brent Spar oil rig in the Atlantic Ocean.


“We’ll see more and more conflicts between local communities and oil companies,’’ says Dirk Hoozemans, a fund manager at Robeco Group in Rotterdam, which manages $4bn in energy stocks. “The issues are health, safety and the environment.’’


The Corrib gas reservoir, discovered in 1996, contains an estimated 1tn cu ft of gas and was the first significant offshore find in Ireland in 25 years.


“It’s unthinkable that the Corrib field won’t be developed,’’ said Job Langbroek, a Dublin-based analyst at Davy Stockbrokers, Ireland’s biggest broker. “Gas is going be an important source of energy over the next 10 to 20 years.’’


That hasn’t stopped the five men, three farmers and two retired school teachers, from being turned into celebrities. Posters backing the five men dot the roadsides around Rossport and Bellanaboy. Supporters etched the slogan “Freedom and Justice for the Rossport 5’’ into bog land surrounding Rossport. Supporters also held protest marches in Dublin, Galway and in London. Shell, which has spent 450mn euros ($538mn) on the project so far, says work won’t resume until at least 2006. – Bloomberg


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