Gas starts flowing from Shell's Corrib natural gas wells off Irish coast

Two decades after the discovery of natural gas wells, Royal Dutch Shell has started producing gas from undersea wells, as part of an effort for Ireland to produce more of its own energy.

Opening the taps in the Corrib field, over 50 miles offshore, was a breakthrough for the oil and gas industry in Ireland, which had had mostly disappointing results in recent years even as it encountered resistance from environmental groups.

After the gas was discovered in 1996, Shell struggled to win approval from the government for the project, which had long been opposed by local environmental campaigners.

According to Shell spokesman, Philip Robinson, the long delayed production was due to environmental opposition. He added, however, that relations with the local communities had improved in recent years.

Ireland imports nearly all its fuel, including gas in large volumes. Apart from the Corrib fields, the only other source of gas had been Kinsale Head, in production since 1978.

According to Pat Shannon, chairman of the Irish Offshore Operators' Association, a trade group, the area where Corrib was located, known as the Atlantic Margin, was promising for oil and gas operators.

Shell said the "first gas" flow was an important milestone.

However, activists opposing the project believe the government "slipped" the consent to Shell during the quiet festive period.

Final approval for the pipeline was granted by energy minister Alex White, earlier this week.

According to Shell to Sea, the group that had campaigned against the project for several years, the approval was "desperate and disgraceful".

"The Government pushed this through because it's the quiet Christmas period," Shell to Sea spokeswoman Maura Harrington told the Irish Independent last night.

However, in a message to the government Harrington said, "Our campaign isn't over by a long shot."