SIPTU criticises Government action on Corrib gas find

 

SIPTU has called for a national debate on State policy towards this island's marine resources, following the latest developments in relation to the Corrib field off the Mayo coast. As reported in this newspaper a week ago, Enterprise Oil has concluded a deal with Bord Gais for commercial development of the Corrib find. Bord Gais will co-fund a pipeline from Broadhaven, Co Mayo, to Galway. The pipeline will be owned by the board, which will run it jointly with Enterprise Oil and that company's partners, Marathon Petroleum and Statoil. Last week, Enterprise Oil described the report as "speculative", but official sources did not deny its content.

SIPTU's offshore oil and gas committee has described the deal with Bord Gais as a "double subsidy" and has accused the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Mr Frank Fahey, of throwing away opportunities to exploit an "indigenous industry".

Mr Padraig Campbell, spokesman for the committee, says the State approach is a replay of the State handling of commercial fisheries - and their trade-off - after Ireland joined the EEC in 1973.

"This effectively means that Enterprise Oil and partners now have the raw material, means of production and distribution and the markets in their control," Mr Campbell said. He is already on record as criticising the tax terms for offshore exploration, and recently attacked the decision of the Minister for Public Enterprise to sell off the Irish National Petroleum Company (INPC) to the US oil company, Tosco Corporation. Tosco has already been fined millions of dollars by US authorities for breaches of environmental and safety regulations.

Enterprise Oil's new managing director, Mr Brian O Cathain, has predicted that 50 jobs will be created in Mayo as a result of the gas being piped ashore at Pullathomas; the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources predicts "30 to 40 jobs". Such a promise, made to members of Mayo County Council, is "nothing to be particularly upbeat about in the overall context of the value of the Corrib gas field", said Mr Michael Cunningham, offshore oil and gas consultant.

"Neither is the short-term employment of some 500 persons during the terminal construction or the anticipated 1,000 jobs during the pipe-laying phase from Pullathomas to Galway meaningful in the longer term," Mr Cunningham stated.

"The scope of the terminal facilities - some 40 acres, with an option to develop a further 40 acres of processing installations - is testament to the real potential of the estimated proven reserves of up to 198 billion cubic metres of gas associated with oil discoveries off our coastline, and likely to be discovered by 2003," he said. "A far cry indeed from the 28 billion cubic metres of gas currently being put forward in respect of Corrib. Aligned to this, Enterprise Oil has now publicly revised its projected time span for natural gas production from 2012 to 2022."

Mr Cunningham believes the offer of up to 50 jobs is "insulting" in this context, and said the very real potential for longterm offshore and onshore jobs and opportunities for younger people, the provision of Irish goods and services, and the facility to provide spurs to towns and industry in the region is "being sidetracked".

Not everyone on Mayo County Council accepted the Enterprise presentation by Mr O Cathain, with councillors Michael Ring and Eddie Staunton among those expressing scepticism. The county council's chairwoman, Ms Annie May Reape, has insisted that Mayo must be central to the development of the Corrib field off Belmullet, as Cork has been in terms of the Kinsale gas field.

The Minister, Mr Fahey, was in Norway last week where he welcomed the announcement in Stavanger that Statoil proposes to drill two exploration wells in Ireland's offshore sector next year. One site is near the Corrib field, the other in the Porcupine Basin. Drilling is expected to begin early next summer.