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EU delegation to visit Shannon estuary on environmental hazards probe

The fact-finding mission this coming September is a response to complaints in relation to Aughinish Alumina plant and plans for a liquefied natural gas terminal.

The proposed site of the Shannon LNG plant near Tarbert, Co Kerry.
The proposed site of the Shannon LNG plant near Tarbert, Co Kerry.
Image: ShannonLNG

A DELEGATION FROM the European Parliament will travel to Ireland later this year on a “fact-finding visit” investigating environmental complaints relating to industry on the Shannon estuary.

The September trip has been prompted by complaints by local people in relation to the Aughinish Alumina plant in Askeaton, Co Limerick and to the proposed Shannon LNG facility in Tarbert, Co Kerry.

Local farmers first complained to the parliament’s Petitions Committee in 2006 that the Irish authorities had not taken appropriate action to protect the environment from pollution from the Aughinish Alumina plant, owned by Russian aluminium giant Rusal.

In October, the Commission investigated new information provided by the farmers on a red mud waste pond at the Aughinish plant. The commission found that the waste “should have been classified as hazardous” by the Irish authorities and has since requested details of the Irish authorities’ emergency plans relating to the waste store.

Red mud, a by-product of alumina production, is strongly alkaline to the point of being caustic. In 2010, nine people died and 122 were injured when a red mud waste pond at an alumina plant in Hungary burst. The resulting pollution killed all the fish in the local river.

In relation to the proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, the delegation will investigate claims made in relation to marine risk, a spokeswoman said.

Shannon LNG, a subsidiary of US oil and gas company Hess, wants to import shipments of liquefied gas from the US to Ireland’s first LNG terminal. But petitioner John McElligott, who went to the EU on behalf of Kilcolgan Residents’ Association and campaign group Safety Before LNG, argues that a marine risk assessment should have been carried out before the proposed development was given planning permission.

“Without a marine risk assessment, we cannot know what the safety, environmental and cumulative impacts of LNG traffic and exclusion zones on the Shannon Estuary would be until after completion of the project,” McElligott told the committee at a hearing in Brussels last week.

“No strategic environmental impact assessment”

In addition, no strategic environmental impact assessment (SEA) was carried out when land was rezoned for the project, because of Irish rules that such assessments are only needed in areas with a population of over 10,000.

That threshold has since been changed following a complaint to the Irish authorities by the European Commission, a commission official said. Under the new rules, the project would probably have been subjected to a full SEA, the official said.

Socialist MEP Paul Murphy said the Shannon LNG and Aughinish cases were part of a wider pattern in Ireland of the wishes of people living in isolated areas being ignored.

“From what the Commission is saying [in relation to SEA] it seems that to some extent that was enshrined in legislation…which seems to me a bit incredible. Are we saying that people that don’t live in highly populated areas have less rights than those who do?” he said.

The European Commission last year brought infringement proceedings against the UK, after an LNG terminal in Wales was built without sufficient assessment of the risks associated with the project. That case also arose from a petition by locals to the European Parliament, the BBC reported.

Rusal did not reply to a request for comment.

Read: EU commission to investigate ‘red waste ponds’ in Limerick>

Read further articles by journalist Valerie Flynn>

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