Amid tight security, Minister of State for Natural Resources Joe McHugh opened the Corrib gas project in Co Mayo yesterday.
Mr McHugh unveiled a plaque at the Bellanaboy onshore terminal and later travelled to Belmullet for a formal lunch with 160 guests.
Large numbers of gardaí and private security were on duty at the lunch venue, the Gateway Resort, on the outskirts of Belmullet, and in the area.
There were no protests and local residents questioned the reason for the strong security presence.
In his speech, Shell E&P Ireland managing director Ronan Deasy conceded the road to the first delivery of gas from the field in late December had been long and acrimonious.
“At times, relationships weren’t always easy,” he said, “but they were important to build and they helped to shape the project. Undoubtedly there was division in relation to the project, there were concerns about aspects of it and there were disruptions to local life on many occasions because of it,” he said.
Death of contractor
Mr Deasy also remembered the death of German contractor
during the tunnelling in September 2013.
Asked about the first flaring of the gas on New Year's Eve – currently being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – Mr Deasy said the flaring was a normal part of the start-up operation and had been discussed with residents beforehand.
“It caused some tension,” Mr Deasy conceded, “but since then there has been no flaring, and the plant is running well.”
However, Rossport resident Mary Corduff said sightings of flaring had been recorded on January 3rd, 4th and 6th, 7th-10th, 12th-15th, 17th and a "large flare" on January 19th.
“If this is not flaring from the stack, could Mr Deasy please explain to us what it is,” she said.
In his speech, Mr McHugh said he would be signing off in the coming weeks on new prospecting licences, after a record number of more than 40 applications.
Mr McHugh described the Erris gas project as “an incredible story”.
He said because of delays and because of the extra capital investment involved, there were “issues” around the tax take, but the contribution to the local economy and the wider economy, with more than 1,000 jobs provided, had to be taken into consideration.