• Shell and Statoil planned to lay a gas pipeline 70 metres from homes in the Corrib project in Ireland.

    FOTO: Hans Petter Jacobsen

Statoil wanted pipe-laying 130 metres nearer housing than recommended

Shell and Statoil planned to lay a gas pipeline 70 metres from homes in the Corrib project in Ireland. Lessons learned from past accidents show there should be a 200-metre minium from buildings and 400 metres from where people gather.

The Ireland gas project has been a catastrophe for Statoil, Shell, and Marathon so far. Corrib is well over ten years delayed and nearly three times more expensive than planned.

One main reason is the protests from landowners who did not want a gas pipeline under their property because they feared for their safety.

Both foreign and Norwegian experts support them.

“We must understand that those who have to live with that risk react. Statistically, the risk is far higher when sitting in the car and driving to the nearest town, but this doesn’t mean anything to people,” says University of Stavanger professor Ove Tobias Gudmestad.

Inferior risk management

“This project’s risk management is extremely incomplete,” Richard B. Kuprewicz, president of renowned Washington state-based consulting firm Accufacts, says to Aftenbladet.

In 2005, the US expert was asked to prepare a report for the then newly established Centre for Public Inquiry (an independent organisation that aimed to examine issues of great importance to Irish politics, the public sector, and corporate work).

12 killed

The report concludes that there were major reservations regarding the project’s safety and risk assessment. Moreover, the companies’ exhibited insufficient openness and honesty regarding the locals, according to the report.

Mr Kuprewicz uses 2000’s accident in Carlsbad, New Mexico as an illustration.

A gas pipeline had rusted from within without this being discovered during testing. Unable to withstand the pressure when it cracked, it led to a powerful explosion that killed 12 people in a tent about 200 metres away from the pipeline.

200-metre minimum

Mr Kuprewicz thinks that this demonstrates this type of pipeline should be no closer than 200 metres from buildings, and 400 metres from where people gather (about 656 and 1,312 feet, respectively).

Under the first proposal from Shell and Statoil, the Corrib pipeline would only be 70 metres (some 230 feet) away from some of the homes.

The US expert has been in Ireland and concluded that the gas pipeline would not necessarily have to go pass through densely-populated areas.

Immovable

“Somebody had decided that gas plant could only be situated in one particular place. I never quite understood why this was, and believe this wasn’t so. I think there were further possibilities here and that these weren’t explored.”

Mr Kuprewicz says that placing the pipeline in a tunnel as the plan is now is not necessary either.

“It’s a safe solution, but an extreme exaggeration. Nevertheless, this is something they’ve had to do because they’ve have lost credibility among both locals and with the authorities.”

Enormous consequences

Professor Ove Tobias Gudmestad says that this is not just about the probability that an accident will happen, but also what is crucial to a project’s overall risk.

“The risk associated with a gas pipeline, for example, constitutes the combination of the probability that something will happen and the consequences if it does. The consequences are enormous if it does actually occur and there’s an explosion,” explains the University of Stavanger professor.

He also believes there is a big difference between those who have chosen to work at a gas plant and those who happen to live near the facility or pipeline.

Over 70 metres

The professor has calculated what he believes the distance between housing and gas at high pressure should be.

These distances should be considerably higher than the Corrib pipeline’s original 70 metres: up to 300 (approximately 984 feet).

Ove Tobias Gudmestad was surprised when he read that the partners in the Corrib field originally wanted a maximum 345-bar pressure.

“It’s incredibly high. My first thought was that the number was incorrect reported. Even 144 bar is relatively high,” concludes the professor.

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