Department of Energy consultant unable to access Corrib gas tunnel on recent inspection

Tunnel access “not required”, department says

A Department of Energy consultant tasked with the most recent inspection of the Corrib gas pipeline works was unable to gain access to the tunnel as he did not have the necessary certification.

The consultant, attached to British firm Graeme Peterson Associates, visited the tunnelling work site at Aughoose in north Mayo on July 2nd-3rd, following reports of "sinkholes" or "air depressions" on the surface of Sruwaddacon estuary.

However, in his report to the Department of Energy, he states that tunnel access was “prevented on this occasion” as only personnel who had undergone the regulation confined space training could enter

The consultancy firm has more than 40 years experience in civil engineering works, specialising in tunnelling projects worldwide, including the London Tube and Singapore Metro.


The report, dated July 8th, was undertaken for consultancy firm Environ on the Department of Energy’s behalf and is published on the department’s website.

Local residents had expressed concern about sinkholes which appeared periodically from last May in the estuary, but Shell E&P Ireland said that these were "small depressions" caused by some "air migration to the surface of Sruwaddacon Bay" and insisted they did not pose any risk to public safety.

Entry not required
Contacted by The Irish Times yesterday, the consultancy firm said that the matter was one for the Department of Energy.

The department said that entry to the tunnel was “not required to complete the scope of the work and hence this did not materially affect the conclusions” of the report.

"Environ will continue to make regular site visits in the context of its overall scope of work, which is to assist the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural

“Resources monitor ongoing compliance with the department’s consent conditions,” it said.

Health and safety
Shell contractors Wayss & Freytag and BAM Civil said last night that it has an "approved strict health and safety procedure in place that only permits those with the required certification to enter the tunnel".

“In July the Department of Energy inspector did not have the required certification and therefore could not enter the tunnel,” it said.

“Regular inspections of the tunnel are carried out by the Wayss & Freytag/BAM Civil joint venture and by our client Shell,” it said.

Health and Safety Authority

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA), which is continuing its investigations into the death of a German hydraulics specialist early on Sunday morning in the Corrib gas pipeline tunnel, has said that access to the workplace is “not a problem” for its inspectors sent to any incident.

The HSA said it could not comment specifically on details of investigations or inspections, but the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 gave it unrestricted access to workplace environments.

Section 64 of the act also requires that the place where an incident occurred “be left undisturbed for as long as is reasonably necessary” during an investigation.

Work Suspended

Work on the tunnel 1.8km below the Sruwaddacon estuary was suspended on Sunday when Lars Wagner (26) sustained fatal head injuries after a valve reportedly burst on the tunnel boring machine.

Mr Wagner, a single man from Offenburg, Germany, was employed by Herrnknecht AG, the German sub-contractor which built the tunnel boring machine hired for the final section of the Corrib gas pipeline.

The contractors have confirmed that one man was also treated for shock but has said there were “no other injuries”.

Mr Wagner’s body was removed to Mayo General Hospital. Members of his family were travelling to north Mayo yesterday .

Mr Wagner had visited the Aughoose work site periodically from November 2012, when construction of the 4.9km long tunnel began as part of a 15-month programme.

Wayss & Freytag BAM civil joint venture has said that a “full coordinated investigation has been launched into the incident.”

Shell E&P Ireland, which has expressed its condolences to Mr Wagner’s family, says it will provide support to staff and contractors, who are “deeply shocked”.

Vermilion Energy Inc, the Canadian company which is a partner with SEPIL and Statoil in the Corrib gas project, said yesterday that it was “saddened by this loss of life”.

“Human safety and environmental protection are Vermilion’s highest priorities,”it said in a statement in which is expressed “sincere condolences to the family and co-workers of the deceased employee of Herrenknecht AG”

“The integrity of the Corrib tunnel itself was not compromised by the incident”, the Canadian company said, adding it would work with SEPIL to ensure the cause was identified and “appropriate steps taken” to ensure workers’ safety before operations were “re-established”.

The tunnel boring programme began last autumn for the last section of the Corrib gas pipeline and is due to be completed next year.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times