On the Message Board

An editorial in the Irish Independent’s 4th August 2008 edition titled The €11m ‘gas bill’ made a number of inaccurate and misleading comments about the Corrib gas issue and the Shell2Sea campaign. We wrote in response:

Dear Gerard O’Regan, Frank Coughlan, [Email, 7/08/08]

It is instructive that in the current climate of economic uncertainty the Irish Independent chooses to focus it’s editorials on the cost of sustaining the coercive arm of the state on behalf of a private company against legitimate protest in west Mayo, as opposed the price the Irish tax payer is liable to incur in relinquishing the country’s extremely valuable natural gas resources to foreign multi-nationals, Royal Dutch Shell and it’s partners Statoil and Marathon.

On the one hand, a group of local people and environmental activists are protesting against the construction of a natural gas terminal and high pressure pipeline, in the face of frequently hostile gardai confrontation. On the other hand a foreign multi-national with revenues exceeding that of over 100 of the world’s countries, including Ireland, is finally after more than 20 years preparing to exploit the growing profits to be made from increasing gas prices using the ‘generous’ licensing conditions given up by previous Irish governments, a deal described by former Labour Party leader Dick Spring as “an act of economic treason.” The disparity couldn’t be more unequal. [1]

And in focusing on the cost of policing protests and not for example on the licensing conditions, acknowledged to represent “the most generous fiscal terms in the world, with no royalties, no state participation, and companies can write off their costs 100% up front” the Irish Independent is widening the disparity. The ostensible intention of the prescribed context is to play on readers fears of recession, so as to draw disfavour for what is portrayed as an unwarranted burden on the tax payer. However it also, perhaps inadvertently, disguises the real burden on the tax payer – the hidden cost of essentially ‘giving away’ natural gas resources currently valued at €13 billion, not to mention the potential of the remainder of the Corrib field, estimated at over €50 billion. [2] [3]

The recent editorial ‘The €11m ‘gas bill” states that “the gas from the Corrib field will provide 60pc of the country’s gas requirements for the next 20 years. Perhaps the protesters would prefer if this country continued to buy more than 90pc of its gas from Britain, with the consequent huge price increases that we are about to experience.” [4] However, while the venture may provide some short term security of supply, in contradiction to the above contention, Irish consumers will remain exposed to the huge price increases Britain is likely to face:

“Shell and Statoil are scheduled to begin producing gas from the Corrib field off the west coast in 2009. Bord Gáis has said this does not mean the gas will be cheaper, as the fuel will still be sold at world prices.” [5]

The editorial further states that “The Environmental Agency has endorsed the project”. Yet this tells only part of the story. As far back as 2002 Mr Kevin Moore, a senior planning inspector with An Bord Plaenala, stated:

“From a strategic planning perspective, this is the wrong site; from the perspective of Government policy which seeks to foster balanced regional development, this is the wrong site; from the perspective of minimising environmental impact, this is the wrong site; and consequently, from the perspective of sustainable development, this is the wrong site.” [6]

This authoritative judgment on the projects viability as a sustainable development has been completely dropped from discourse despite the fact it contradicts Shell’s own professed commitment to sustainable development and it’s public call for urgent action on climate change:

“The world must act urgently to stabilize the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and minimize the global impacts of climate change.” [Shell Canada, ‘Business leaders call for climate change action’, 17th November 2005, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] [7]

“Sustainable development is critical to everyone’s future and to our business success” [Jeroen van der Veer, Shell Chief Executive, The Shell Sustainability Report 2007] [8]

Sustainable development for Shell means “a commitment to responsible operations: building our projects, running our facilities and managing our supply chain safely and in ways that reduce their negative environmental and social impacts and create positive benefits” and for Shell “contributing to sustainable development means helping meet the world’s growing energy needs in economically, environmentally and socially responsible ways.” [The Shell Sustainability Report 2007] [9]

It is unsettling that the Irish Independent chooses to subjugate the complete context, one that their readers should be informed of, and instead pursue a course of reporting which serves only to enrich the agenda of a tiny group of Irish elites and foreign multi-nationals – all under the pretences of balance and impartiality.

Reports on the Corrib gas project lack any semblance of balance unless they are also framed by the following questions: How much does the Irish citizen stand to gain from the Corrib gas project? What percentage of the total potential profit does this constitute? and at what environmental cost?

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

David Manning

We have yet to receive any response.

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