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ARCHON: Hay, hoe – the Texans are coming – and isn't that gas?

July 31st, 2017 12:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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THE Port of Cork, the semi-state company responsible for the commercial running of shipping facilities in the harbour and Bantry, is – in Leeside parlance – ‘haunted' (ie blessed with good luck), even though last year profits fell by 22%. 

 The company embarrassingly revealed that the amount of cargo passing through Cork declined by almost 14%, largely due to a reduction in the oil business at both Whitegate and Bantry. Brendan Keating, chief executive, bravely took the bad news on the chin and promised things would improve.

 And, be the hokey, he was right. This year the omens are auspicious and it's all thanks to Keating, Capt Michael McCarthy and the arrival of the Texans  – those good natured larger-than-life people in cowboy hats who, after an hour's conversation, nobody can stand (Nah! Just joking). 

 The Lone Star State, you see, has big plans for Cork:  a gas supply project that will secure the future of Ireland's (and, of course, the Real Capital's) power supply for decades to come.

 The Port of Cork and a Texas-based energy producer, NextDecade, have signed a memorandum of understanding to hold talks concerning a project that could supply the Irish gas grid with up to 3m tonnes per year of liquid natural gas (LNG).

 The gas comes from the Rio Grande LNG export facility, via the company's proposed 138-mile Rio Bravo pipeline system that is linked to the Eagle Ford shale formation, and it will be shipped to Whitegate from the Port of Brownsville in South Texas (notice how expertly cowpuncher place-names flow from our Skibbereen pen!).

 August hoedown?

NextDecade CEO, Kathleen Eisbrenner, has pencilled-in August 2nd for a joint public get-together – perhaps even a hoedown – in Cork. The purpose of the meeting is to highlight the potential benefits of the project for the Real Capital and the Old West.  Reps from local industries, as well as ‘political leaders', will be invited.

 Let's hope that when it comes to the politicos no-one will be fixin' to bring bad medicine to the cookhouse, there'll be no talkin' Barnum, no airin' the lungs, no cussin' and no one turnin' up madder than a wet hen! But then, like, you never know!

 And, although probably not invited, the harbour's environmentalists will be watching closely, very much aware of major petrochemical spills, such as that of the Exxon Valdez which crashed off the Alaska coast in 1989, spilling 11m of gallons of oil into Prince William Sound; or the 2010 catastrophe at BP's Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig. 

But, oil disasters aside, and the fact that Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) has the potential to create a massive, destructive explosion because of the density of the fuel and its volatility, the Port of Cork believes the industry has a good safety record. 

It is, however, a viewpoint with which residents in Washington State might not agree, given issues with other firms – though not NextDecade, to be fair.

Leaking gas

Three years ago, near the small town of Plymouth in rural Washington, a ‘processing vessel' at the Williams facility exploded, sending huge chunks of shrapnel a distance of 300 yards, injuring workers and forcing a two-mile radius evacuation of the site. 

 Authorities were concerned that leaking gas would trigger a worse explosion and, if that had happened, it would have levelled a three-quarter mile ‘lethal zone' around the plant. As a result of that emergency and others, American environmentalists are calling for better safety requirements and that LNG export plants be located far from population areas.

 Critics also point to the 2004 blast at an Algerian LNG facility that killed 27 workers and injured many more, and that a gas pipeline explosion in California in 2010 resulted in the company owners being prosecuted for safety lapses.

 As the US becomes increasingly reliant on the clean-burning fuel, the Washington explosion focussed attention on the ‘safe handling' of LNG.

 As a result, at least a dozen new LNG export facilities are waiting for government approval and some have faced public opposition on safety grounds.  

But it remains to be seen if the more safety-conscious attitude to LNG in America has anything to do with the Texas decision to develop a facility at Whitegate.

 Nevertheless, LNG advocates argue that risks can be reduced when the project is overseen by more than one government agency, and when detailed emergency plans are in place. They say that safety technology is improving all the time.

New jetty

They are convinced that eventually Liquefied Natural Gas will replace diesel fuel for long-distance road vehicles and marine vessels, particularly in regard to seriously polluting transatlantic liners.

 And they assert that whatever about the controversy concerning the huge yield of  LNG that shale drilling generates in America, the gas constitutes about 30% of total US primary energy consumption.

 In the meantime, at the proposed Cork meeting between representatives of NextDecade and the Port of Cork, discussions will take place on the construction of a new import jetty for LNG that will facilitate the transfer of the gas to a floating storage vessel at Whitegate. LNG will be turned into vaporous gas, pumped to a new underwater pipeline and then into the national grid. NextDecade will pay for the cost of the jetty.

 And now for a little postscript. The proposed Whitegate development is a major news item and particularly relevant to Cork and Bantry (in a roundabout way), which makes it all the odder that the Dublin newspapers were the first to carry the details. In doing so, they pipped the ex-Old Lady of Academy Street, De Paper, leading to Leeside red faces all round!

 Needless to say, The Southern Star was aware of the project from an early stage, a tip-off having been supplied by a well-known Texas cowboy and reader of ‘Rigzone', the oil and gas news site. Much thanks, Clint, old chap, a free subscription is on the way!

Foul language

And now for something really important.  Obscenities, the four-letter word and cursing were once perceived as an act of hostility and aggression. Not anymore. 

They're now commonplace, thanks to the media and politicians using them with impunity.

 For instance, last week that self-styled organ of rectitude and virtue, the Irish Independent, carried an online article about hot chilli pepper (it's the silly season!) with the headline: “Holy F**k – Three brave souls take on the hottest wings in Ireland”.

 Nobody batted an eyelid – a response identical to the comments of Junior Minister, John Halligan, who referred to the President of America as an ‘asshole' (10/8/ 2016 Irish Examiner), landlord speculators as ‘bastards' (Indo 11/06/2016), and said that he personally was not going to be ‘f***ed over by anybody' (Sindo 9/9/16).

 All of which reminds us of the philosopher in Dinty's who remarked that … ‘If you have to swear to get attention you're obviously a bo***ix.'

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