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Shell fined €1k and ordered to pay €15k in legal costs over gas flaring

The prosecution was brought by the Environmental Protection Agency following complaints from locals.

Image: Yui Mok

SHELL IRELAND HAS been fined €1,000 and ordered to pay €15,000 in legal costs for causing light and noise pollution from a gas flare during start-up testing at the Corrib gas terminal in Co Mayo.

The prosecution was brought by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) following complaints from people living around the Bellanaboy Bridge area in Co Mayo, the location of Shell’s terminal to bring in gas from the Corrib gas field 65 kilometres offshore.

Guilty plea

Shell E&P Ireland Ltd, which operates the controversial gas project, pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court today to breaching two counts of the Environmental Agency Protection Act during “flaring” tests on the night of New Year’s Eve.

The company admitted that emissions from the gas flaring activity during the night resulted in impairment of, or interference with amenities of the environment beyond the installation boundary when people might reasonably be expected to be sleeping.

The second charge stated it resulted in noise emissions that exceeded the applicable limits for evening time at noise sensitive locations.

Outlining the background, prosecution solicitor Alan Doyle told Judge John O’Neill that during the start-up tests, Shell needed to flare off the mixture of gas and seawater until they had pure gas which they could then refine.

Flaring for a certain amount of time

EPA Inspector Kealan Reynolds told Judge O’Neill that it had been agreed that a certain amount of flaring would have to happen for 15 to 30 minutes during daytime. Consent was given on 29 December last to open the valve on to the Corrib field, he said.

He said the EPA began to get complaints from locals regarding noise and light from the flaring from 8pm on New Year’s Eve until about 4am on 1 January.

Reynolds said the EPA carried out an investigation and visited the terminal unannounced on 4 January when they gathered data from personnel and the monitoring equipment on site.

The information they obtained confirmed the noise limit had been breached from 8pm on New Year’s Eve until early the next morning and this would have had impairment on the environment, he said.

He agreed with defence counsel Declan McGrath that Shell co-operated and their managing director had sent out letters to locals to apologise. Reynolds agreed that the letter explained there were “unexpected difficulties” that led to flaring for longer and later in the day.

The court heard that the maximum district court fine for each offence was €4,000 and Shell had agreed to pay the EPA’s €15,138 costs.

Technical difficulties

McGrath told Judge O’Neill that it should have happened for a shorter period and during the daytime. However, he said there had been technical difficulties during the start-up procedures.

Counsel asked the court to note that the flare up went on for minutes rather than hours and the disturbances were regretted by the company. No damage was caused to the environment and the incident was on the lower end of the scale with no residual impact requiring remedial measures, McGrath told the court.

The court heard the company had no prior criminal convictions.

Judge O’Neill also noted that there was no danger to life inside or outside the facility and said he took into consideration Shell’s early guilty plea as well as their apology. He said the company met the charges in a responsible manner.

However, he said he understood why people in the vicinity might be concerned having regard to the history of the location. He fined Shell €500 on each charge and directed that the money must go to the EPA. They must also pay the EPA’s legal costs, he directed.

In a statement after the case the EPA said:

Queries and complaints from members of the public in relation to licensed facilities are a valuable source of information for the EPA in conducting our enforcement activities. As such, the EPA would like to thank those residents who came forward to make complaints or statements during our investigation.

Read: Shell to Sea activist Maura Harrington arrested in Mayo>

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Tom Tuite

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