The Shell to Sea campaign vehemently opposes the current plans for the project, which it regards as dangerous, despite assurances from Shell. The level of opposition to the current configuration of the project has led to a large amount of security at the refinery building site at Bellanaboy.
Shell have proposed to develop the Corrib field as a sub-sea production facility with onshore processing. This method of development is claimed by Shell to be in line with best industry practice for gas fields of this type, but no other refinery is as close to a residential community and regional water supply. Many people, including local residents, are concerned about the health, safety and environmental impact of the onshore aspects of the scheme, and, citing Shell's record, do not believe the company's assurances. Others are concerned with alleged irregularities and precedents surrounding the project. Sinn Féin called for an inquiry into the Corrib deal as early as 2001. Protests by residents have been ongoing daily at the refinery site since the summer of 2005, when five local men were jailed for contempt of court after refusing to abide by a court injunction.
The Shell to Sea campaign, which is attempting to have the gas refined at sea rather than inland, was created during their imprisonment. A poll conducted throughout the county by TNS/MRBI on behalf of RTÉ's Nuacht in September 2006 60% felt the terminal should be located offshore at sea, with 25% supporting Shell's decision to build it inland. The offshore alternative has strongest support amongst those aged under 49 years, and those residing in Castlebar/Ballinrobe/ Claremorris and Westport/Belmullet areas."''
The second two have proved contentious, and were objected to by both An Taisce and Dúchas. Planning permission for the refinery was originally refused, and the onshore section of the pipeline was not subject to any planning regulation due to a loophole.
Michael Ring was the highest-profile Fine Gael opponent of the onshore refinery until performing a U-turn on the issue. No Fine Gael or Progressive Democrat elected representative now opposes the inland terminal. Newport councillor, former Senator, Frank Chambers and Belmullet councillor Tim Quinn are the only Fianna Fáil politicians in support of inland terminal. Sinn Féin backs the Shell to Sea campaign as policy, though local Sinn Féin member Paddy Ruddy has been employed by Shell, as did the Green Party until they entered government with Fianna Fáil and the PDs. Much of the Labour Party opposes the current project configuration, with party president Michael D. Higgins being the most prominent opponent.
Following this report, senior Shell executives met with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Ahern then met with the board of An Bord Pleanála. They agreed to overturn the decision, and the refinery was given planing permission.
The cleaning terminal will require in excess of 120 Megawatts of power to operate, the power would coming from burning off the uncleaned gas condensate, containing oxides of carbon and nitrogen, sulphur dioxide, methane and ozone. There will be nine chimneys, four of them approximately high. These would release carbon dioxide and methane equivalent to the global warming potential of 27,000 dairy cows.
The waste water problem is twofold:
This untreated waste water would contain many toxic substances, including lead, nickel, magnesium, phosphorus, chromium, arsenic, mercury and the radioactive gas radon. Aluminium levels in the lake (due to runoff from the construction) are far in excess of World Health Organisation limits. Carrowmore Lake was declared unsafe in early summer of 2007.
The refinery would be constructed on blanket bog. Shell’s plan to stabilise this involves mixing in cement to form a hard surface. This process not been used on such a large scale and creates a reaction which produces the very toxic hexavalent chromium.
The Environmental Protection Agency awarded a licence to operate the refinery in November 2007, more than two years after construction began.
Frequently described as a "high pressure" pipeline, the pipeline will have an operating pressure of 120 Bar and a maximum design pressure of 345 Bar, and is odorlesss To compare, in Kinsale the gas is refined at sea and piped ashore at a much lower pressure and odorised. The highest pressure Bord Gáis pipelines, in the so-called Transmission network, bringing the gas cross-country or overseas to Scotland, run at 16 – 70 bar pressure.
The large pressure is necessary as the pipeline would be pumping the gas straight out of the field to the onshore refinery, whereas normally the refining takes place out at sea. Current legislation applies only to off-shore upstream pipelines and to on-land ones with similar levels of pressure to those used by Bord Gáis. The Irish government decreed the pipeline was not to be subject to planning permission as they considered it an offshore development, though it runs inland for over 9 km.
A UCC research team found that the bay was an important breeding and rearing area for whales and dolphins . They recorded over 220 sightings of seven whale and dolphin species including sightings of the relatively rare Risso's Dolphin, plus sightings of two seal species and marine mammals such as basking sharks and a sea turtle in Broadhaven Bay and north-west Mayo waters.
Broadhaven Bay is a Special Area of Conservation under European Union regulations. According to state heritage agency Dúchas “Broadhaven Bay supports an internationally important number of Brent Goose” as well as regionally important populations of other birds. The pipeline would also pass through the machair sand dunes/coastal grasslands at one end of Broadhaven Bay.
Many Erris residents have concerns about having Shell's previous activities.